If you haven’t seen the projections, you’ve probably still absorbed the gist of them: At some point in the not-too-distant future an astronomical number of people will likely be displaced by climate change. Estimates range from 140 million to 1.2 billion by 2050.

For some, these vast numbers conjure cataclysmic images of hordes of desperate people escaping climate hotspots in the Global South, clamouring to cross borders into Europe and the United States. And they’re often accompanied by an important caveat: The worst version of this nightmare scenario can still be avoided if high-polluting countries act now to drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

It’s a clear and evocative narrative that dovetails neatly with fears and anger about irregular migration in many Global North countries. The only problem is it’s riddled with inaccuracy and xenophobic bias – and it has also proven ineffective as a motivator for climate action. Even so, it seems to be increasingly accepted by many as a matter of fact.

“People don’t make the distinction of understanding migrating to where, which is a very important question,” says Amali Tower, the founder of the NGO Climate Refugees. “It doesn’t even matter, because all they hear is, ‘They’re coming here’, when they are not.”

A more nuanced picture

From sea level rise and desertification to increased drought and more severe storms, the effects of the climate crisis are already real, menacing, and evermore apparent in day-to-day life. A report next week by the UN-convened Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is expected to give the most worrying assessment yet of these impacts.

It can be tempting to draw a direct line between the effects of climate change and the ever-growing number of displaced people around the world. But the relationship between climate change and displacement is, in reality, more complex. “It can be difficult to isolate people who are solely moving as a result of climate change,” Teye said in a recent interview with The New Humanitarian.

“Climate change has always been one of the drivers of migration, but it doesn’t act alone,” he explained. “It interacts with other social and economic factors… [and] it also interacts with political factors, such as conflicts.”

Read the full article about climate change and migration by Eric Reidy at The New Humanitarian.