50 million climate refugees – the search continues
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50 million climate refugees – the search continues

The recent article in New Scientist magazine about the bogus 50 million climate refugees claim has already been mentioned by this blog, but some of the assertions in it are worthy of closer scrutiny – especially since the original academic who made the claim stands by it.

As Professor Norman Myers of Oxford University told New Scientist:

It may be very difficult to demonstrate that there are 50 million climate refugees, but it is even harder to demonstrate that there are not.

Well, okay, it is not easy to disprove it without a proper study, but it might just be possible to discover some trends to show it’s unlikely that there are 50 million climate refugees. Movements of that many people should be showing up in the census data of the most climate-sensitive regions.

The New Scientist article mentions a number of places as being particularly susceptible to the movement of people as a result of climate change.

The first, Mongolia, is surely the most ridiculous of suggestions because it is a place famous for its nomads. These climate refugees have existed for thousands of years, following the pastures. There is no evidence, incidentally, of population declines.

Another country mentioned is Ecuador which, they say, had many people leave for Europe following El Nino events about 20 years ago. Has this trend continued?

Nope – or at least there has been no obvious affect on the population. A recent census shows an increase in population of 14 per cent over the last ten years.

Ecuador does have a significant population that has emigrated to Spain but, funnily enough, nearly 250,000 people have also chosen to move there from Colombia. If Ecuador was such an environmental hell-hole, you’d think they might choose somewhere else.

What then about Mexico, a place that Myers and UNEP claimed was the source of as many as 1 million environmental refugees a year during the 1990s? Surely this trend must have accelerated, right? Or maybe not:

Mexico’s newest census shows the number of migrants leaving the country dropped by more than two-thirds since its peak in the last decade, and more migrants are coming back than before.

The National Statistics and Geography Institute says the 2010 census shows a net outflow of about 145,000 Mexicans leaving the country from 2005 to 2010, the years covered by the count.

That is down from a peak of about 450,000 between 2000 and 2005, and about 240,000 per year between 1995 and 2000…

The census released Thursday shows a population drop in some Mexican towns hit by drug violence, but the institute cannot say whether violence was the cause.

No mention of climate refugees, and there is no overall trend that would account for millions of people.

Well then, how about Myers’ claim that the biggest source of climate refugees was people from the Horn of Africa, the region covering the nations of Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti and Somalia.

The borders of Africa are generally easy to cross, and the people very susceptible to changes in food production. If climate change refugees were going to become manifest anywhere, you might expect to find them in these countries.

Have a look then at these links, and tell me if you can find signs of people fleeing any of the countries on the Horn of Africa:

So given this data, how can Professor Myers possibly claim to stand by his prediction?

Once again, all of the information I have seen suggests there have actually been huge population increases in regions identified by Professor Myers and the United Nations Environment Programme as being likely sources of climate refugees. The UNHCR meanwhile tells us that the number of refugees in the world has nearly halved since 2001.

We can only repeat the question: what happened to the climate refugees?