Climate change and migration are critical issues because any type of change, be it warmer seasons or hurricanes, threatens the survival of communities living in vulnerable areas. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a team of the world’s scientists, has shown an increase in the number and intensity of natural disasters, specifically hurricanes, which affect whole regions and communities.
According to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change, it is possible that, by the year 2050, the number of climate refugees and migrants could reach anywhere between 25 million and one billion. Climate change will be a burden placed disproportionately upon poor, rural, and coastal communities. Rising sea levels, increased desertification, flooding, and the loss of natural wildlife and plant species will force many to leave their homes in order to support themselves.
One fifth of the of the world’s population lives in coastal areas in China, India, the Caribbean, and Central America, and are vulnerable to rising tides and climate change-related storms. I’ve even seen the effects of climate change in my home state of New York, as parts of the city, especially Staten Island, are still working to recover from damage caused by Hurricane Sandy.
Columbans witness the impacts of climate change on creation and communities where they serve. On his visit to Washington D.C., Columban Father John Boles told me how the melting of glaciers in the Andes Mountains has hurt the farming communities of Peru. The water supply has decreased drastically and its flow has weakened, requiring people to climb mountains to retrieve water, or risk the death of their crops and livestock. Despite this, they persevere because no relief has been offered and this is sadly becoming their new reality.
Another example is Vanuatu, an island nation within Oceania. A community there was forced to relocate due to the risk of natural disasters. They moved from the interior of Tegua Island to the higher lands because their costal homes had been swept up and damaged by storms and waves.
In Fiji, where Columbans work, the people have strong connections, both cultural and traditional, with the ancestral lands. Many are migrating from their traditional lands due to increased urbanization and environmental destruction. Deforestation and the destruction of wetlands destroy natural buffers that normally protect communities and other species from tsunamis and flooding linked to climate change.
Our faith calls us to protect our earth, both human beings and the whole of creation. This means ensuring God’s Earth can sustain all life in a nurturing way. As the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has recognized, “All peoples have the right to conditions worthy of human life and, if these conditions are not present, the right to migrate.” By working to both mitigate the worst impacts of climate change, funding efforts to help communities adapt to climate change, and ensuring there is funding for damages and loss already occurring, we can try to address both the root causes of climate change and migration.