The World Bank is out with a headline-grabbing report claiming man-made global warming could create more than 140 million “climate refugees” if nothing is done to curb greenhouse gas emissions.
While the report has gotten lots of media attention, few reporters have dug into the data behind the World Bank’s claim that millions of people in Africa, southern Asia and Latin America could be made into climate refugees by 2050.
Dig into the data and you find the World Bank’s high-end estimate of 143 million climate refugees is based on a warming scenario researchers are increasingly calling “exceptionally unlikely” since it relies on a 10-fold increase in coal-burning by 2100. Research shows this would upend current energy trends and may represent more coal than is actually recoverable.
That scenario is called RCP8.5, and it’s the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s “worst case” for global warming. It’s often referred to as the “business as usual” or “baseline” scenario, but recent research shows that may not be an appropriate label.
For years, international organizations and activists have been warning of the coming flood of climate refugees — people displaced by extreme weather events influenced in some way by man-made warming.
The argument goes that global warming will make extreme weather events more frequent, driving mass migration in poor countries unable to withstand such disasters. Floods, droughts, storms and heat waves will become more common, scientists and activist say. They also point to rising seas threatening coastal communities.
NOW WATCH WHY GLOBAL WARMING IS OVERBLOWN:
The United Nations famously predicted there’d be 50 million climate refugees by 2010, but quietly removed a web page when that didn’t happen. The UN pushed its prediction to 2020.
The science, however, points to little evidence that extreme weather is becoming more frequent or intense around the world, meaning it’s difficult to blame humans for making weather worse. But that hasn’t stopped the dire predictions.
The World Bank’s report incorporates RCP8.5 in two out of three of its scenarios for projections of climate refugees. The second RCP8.5-based scenario has less than the extreme case, but still generates “climate migration across the three regions could drop to between 65 and 105 million.”
The World Bank’s “more climate-friendly scenario” projects “31 million to 72 million across the three regions,” the fewest number of internal climate migrants. That projection relies on RCP2.6, which shows little to no warming throughout the 21st Century.
But those lower scenarios don’t generate headlines. “140m people in three regions expected to migrate before 2050 unless environment is improved,” The Guardian reported.
“143 Million People Could Soon Be Displaced Because of Climate Change, World Bank Says,” reads Time’s headline. “Climate change could force millions of people to move within countries,” Mashable warned.
Interestingly enough, the World Bank’s own report acknowledges that determining whether someone is a climate refugee or not is fraught with difficulty.
“Because mobility is complex, driven by multiple, interacting processes that vary greatly over space and time, there is no straight line of causation from environmental stress to the movement of people,” the World Bank noted.
“Favorable environments attract people who are moving; people do not only move away from places of environmental stress, they are equally likely to move to them,” reads the report. “Millions of people will be unable or unwilling to move from areas of environmental stress, rendering them immobile or “trapped.”
Ultimately, the World Bank’s disclaimer at the beginning of the report serves to put readers on their guard: “The World Bank does not guarantee the accuracy of the data included in this work.”
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