There could be as many as 216 million people forced to seek safety away from home by 2050, the World Bank estimated.
Extreme weather events have forced around 21.5 million displacements every year over the past decade – calculated by the UN according to how many times people had to move, rather than how many people were affected. The figure is double the number of displacements triggered by war, according to the study.
Climate change is already “amplifying vulnerabilities” in many parts of the world, Andrew Harper – the UNHCR’s special advisor on climate action – told delegates in Glasgow, with countries already hit by poverty and conflict put under further pressure by weather disasters.
“We can’t wait for more COPs and more unfulfilled commitments,” he added.
Around 3.5 million people are displaced in Afghanistan, where soaring temperatures and droughts are making conditions even more dangerous for people affected by 40 years of war. Another 1.1 million were forced out of their homes by extreme weather by the end of 2020.
And in Mozambique, 730,000 people have been forced to flee insurgency amid the chaos of cyclones.
Boris Johnson warned last week that failure to take bold action at COP26 could result in mass migration and competition over food and water.
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But his government’s upcoming Nationality and Borders Bill could criminalise anyone who arrives in the UK without already holding a valid visa, threatening them with jail for up to four years. The widely-condemned legislation undermines global refugee law just as more people come under threat of being displaced by the climate crisis, UN experts said.
“There are no quick fixes to what is a global problem,” said Rossella Pagliuchi-Lor, the UK representative for the UNHCR.
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The legislation “seems to be aimed at deterring refugees,” she added, “but there’s no evidence that would be the result.”