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of people
What is climate change?
Climate change refers to the changing average weather
patterns over a period of time.
These changes are caused by both natural and human
Most scientists now agree
that current climate change
is linked to the increase in
greenhouse gases in the
earth’s atmosphere.
Bangladesh 2004
People are affected
Climate change in itself does
not directly displace people.
However, climate change may have environmental
effects that make it difficult for people to survive where
they are.
We traditionally associate displacement with people
being forced to leave their homes due to conflict,
injustice or persecution.
But, today, millions of people are forced to leave their homes
as a result of climate change.
As they do not meet the definition of a refugee, they receive
no legal protection.
Bangladesh Floods 2004
Human rights
“Global warming and extreme
weather conditions may have
calamitous consequences for
the human rights of millions of
people… Ultimately, climate
change may affect the very
right to life.”
Kyung-wha Kang, UN Deputy High
Commissioner for Human Rights
Human rights
"Amid the diverse social and
political causes, the Darfur
conflict began as an
ecological crisis, arising at
least in part from climate
Ban Ki Moon, UN Secretary General
The scale of the problem
Climate change disasters are currently a bigger cause of
population displacement than are war and persecution.
It is estimated that at
least 25 million people
are currently displaced
by climate change.
This could increase to
150 million by 2050.
Asian tsunami
Why people may be
displaced by climate
1) Sudden natural disasters, e.g. floods,
volcanic eruptions, cyclones or
2) Long-term environmental effects
occurring over time, e.g. desertification,
rising sea levels, soil erosion, land
degradation, changing water table or
seasonal river flow changes.
What could happen if there was an
increase of a few degrees centigrade?
• Decreased ability to generate an income from agriculture
• Increased food prices
• More people at risk of hunger
• Food and water insecurity
• Resurgence and spread of many diseases including
malaria, cholera and respiratory tract infections
Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
People move to new areas to:
• grow their crops
• find food, water and
• find employment
But these areas are often already overcrowded or
unsafe due to conflict.
Internally Displaced People (IDPs):
• are people forced to leave home, but
who remain in their own country
• find themselves in situations similar to
those faced by refugees
• rarely have the same levels of
protection and assistance
East Timor IDP camp
Climate refugees:
• are people forced to leave their own country due to the
impacts of climate change
• are not recognised as refugees under international law
and so are often denied protection and assistance
Many don’t like to be called
climate refugees but would
prefer industrialised
countries to reduce their
greenhouse gas emissions
and assist them to mitigate
and adapt to climate change.
Asia floods 2007
“Taking us as environmental refugees, is not what
Tuvalu is after in the long run.
We want the islands of Tuvalu and our nation to
remain permanently and not be submerged as a
result of greed and uncontrolled consumption of
industrialised countries.
We want our children to grow up the way my wife
and I did in our own islands and in our own culture.”
Sir Tomasi Puapua, Governor General
The low-lying Torres Strait
Islands face similar
challenges to South Pacific
nations, yet their concerns
are barely known by other Australians.
“We see the big trees near the beach, like the wongai
trees, falling down. The seagrass that the dugongs
eat, you used to find long patches of it, but not any
more. The corals are dying, and the sand is getting
swept away and exposing the rock.”
Ron Day, Murray Island elder and community leader
What is Caritas Australia doing?
Caritas Australia works through local partners to address
both the short and long-term needs of people affected by
climate disasters.
We assess the threats and
support vulnerable
communities to adapt to new
weather conditions and to
reduce the risks of disasters.
Tongan water tank
We train communities in sustainable agricultural practices
and help them to build local water points and water tanks.
Climate change makes life even harder for people living
in poverty.
Caritas Australia aims to help people lift themselves out
of poverty, without making climate change worse.
We work in collaboration with other organisations to
address structural injustices.
Together, we challenge
policies and practices that
increase displacement due
to climate change.
Caritas is looking at ways to reduce our own ecological
footprint through work practices and policies such as
recycling, teleconferencing to reduce air travel, hybrid car
hire and auditing and reviewing our ecological footprint.
Caritas Australia is also
calling on its supporters to
take action on climate change
by re-examining their
lifestyles so as to live
sustainably and in solidarity
with the world’s poorest
Festival of Global Concern
You can help!
• Write to the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, to
call on the Australian Government to develop an
integrated strategy to assist climate migrants
• Reduce your greenhouse gas emissions
• Raise awareness of the issues
of climate refugees
• Support Caritas Australia to
help communities vulnerable
to the effects of climate change
Discussion Questions
• What would you do if you could not survive where
you live?
• Who should be responsible for providing homes for
people displaced by climate change?
• Should people forced to flee their home due to
environmental effects be recognised under
international law as refugees? Why/ why not?
• How do the Catholic social teaching principles of
solidarity, stewardship and the common good fit into
the discussion about climate-related displacement?
• How might the future of people displaced by climate
change differ if governments were to provide
assistance to deal with the effects of climate change?
• What action has the current government taken on
climate change and what further changes need to be
• What can we do individually and collectively to
reduce the effects of climate change?
Picture credits
Reuters/ Romeo Ranoco
Sean Sprague
Caritas Germany
Mathias Heng
Caritas Australia
FoE/ Josie Lee
Useful links
More about climate refugees from Friends of the Earth:
Sweet Water film:
Last updated November 2014