Published On: Sat, Oct 19th, 2013

Climate Change Refugees

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Three hundred people drowned last week when an overcrowded fishing boat sank off the tiny Italian island of Lampedusa, close to the north African coast. They were emigrants from northern and sub-Saharan Africa seeking a better life in Europe.  The numbers fluctuate between the years – there were 64,000 boat people who landed in Italy in 2012 alone.


The island of Lampedusa provides a relatively close landing point for migrants into Europe.

The motivations for these brave men and women to risk everything, including the lives of their children, are obvious: conditions at home are bad – and expected to get worse – and conditions in Europe, despite Europe’s woes and high unemployment, are infinitely better.

History Future Now has written about this issue many times (The North African Threat and Mediterranean ReunificationDealing with the consequences of climate chance inaction: the impact of food, and How climate change will drive new barbarian hordes into Europe for example) and it is clear that there is a fundamental incompatibility between the motivations of Europeans – who want to keep waves of immigrants out  – and emigrants who want to get in.

So what does the Lampedusa tragedy have to do with Climate Change?  In the short term, nothing.  In the medium to long term, a lot.  Climate change will make it more likely that we will see more of these tragedies in the future.  The population of North Africa and Sub Saharan Africa is increasing rapidly and is actually expected to explode as the graph below (thanks to the NY Times (source from United Nations Population Division) shows.


Growth rates are declining but fertility rates in Sub Saharan Africa are still massively larger than in the rest of the world.


Population Growth rates

The population of Nigeria alone is expected to grow to over 1 billion people by the end of the century.   Population increases will further stress the local environment, increasing the likelihood of famines and civil wars as groups fight over fewer resources shared between more people.   Climate change is nothing more than petrol being thrown on an already blazing fire – there are underlying problems that exist irrespective of how bad global warming will get.

Some left of centre commentators say that Europe should just let all of the people in that want to come. This is a humane response to a humanitarian crisis.

Meanwhile, commentators on the right hand side of the political spectrum complain that providing aid and assistance to Africa is a waste of money and that we should be focusing on our own internal issues.  This is a logical response to an economic crisis.

Both sides of the political divide are wrong.

Allowing mass immigration is not feasible.  The number of people who would like to come exceeds the actual population of Europe itself.    The continent would not be able to absorb all of those very poor, mainly unskilled, mainly unhealthy (due to malnutrition and diseases that prey on the weak) people who have radically different attitudes to religion, women & minority rights and democracy, without being radically and permanently altered.

Equally, abandoning North Africa and Sub Saharan Africa to get on with their own problems ignores the fact that if life is too terrible then millions of men and women, like those who died trying to get to Lampedusa last week, will try to force their way into Europe, whether Europeans like it or not.




In a previous article History Future Now argued that it made sense to create a trading block that included North Africa (The North African Threat and Mediterranean Reunification).  This would help to make the North African coast of the Mediterranean a more viable place to live and raise a family.  That would significantly reduce the pressure to emigrate.

In another earlier article History Future Now showed that a poor response to immigration pressures – as done by the Roman Empire  – can lead to chaos and collapse of the recipient country (How climate change will drive new barbarian hordes into Europe).


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  • Tristanfischer

    I don’t see anything sustaining the opinion that climate change will cause an increase of refugees. Higher levels of CO2 have the beneficial side effect of making the land more fertile.
    The present stream of refugees are economical refugees the like of which can be found anywhere in the world. Problems in their countries of origin are a lot more complicated than the completely natural cycle of climate development (over 15 years of no warming).
    Africa has been far from neglected as hundreds of billions of aid have been poured into the continent. With little to show for it. So, stop going on about the global warming, no sorry, the, climate change dogma already.By Ronald Dolfing

  • Ian Campbell

    The problem of refugees coming from North Africa has absolutely nothing to do with climate change; it has everything to do with political instability caused by, yes, climate (which hasn’t changed significantly in that area for centuries) and tribal/religious issues.

    The last thing that Europe needs is a tidal wave of adherents to a 7th century social structure.

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  • Joseph Toomey

    So how many climate change refugees are there now? Does anyone else perceive a sense of myopia when someone converts a tragedy about economic migrants on the high seas into a parable about fossil fuel use?

  • Dan Staley

    Joseph, are you claiming the economic issues in the Horn of Africa and Mediterranean Africa have nothing to do with climate issues? If so, why?

  • Peter Salmon-Lomas

    One of the things that is fundamental to this whole subject is that those who are the polluters, those emitting the greenhouse gases, which are a large contributing factor to climate change, have to be brought to justice over their lack of cooperation in the reduction of those gases. Their lack of compliance, in my opinion, is holding the rest the world, especially the vulnerable, to ransom.

    Greed is literally killing our planet

  • Jihane Elias

    indeed,such bad news happen almost repeatedly nowadays.recently,lebanese life and job seekers faced the same destiny though they paid the rest of their money to reach a safe haven.and what happened in Lampedusa,was really sad..seeing the rest of those people s clothes and stuffs and..human fair aspirations to have a better life in taking that risk on such boats,in such a deadly adventure.i don t know who s the responsible number one here but i m sure it s every human s responsibility and concern to take into account such risks,such kind of people whose home is the world not only the places they had to leave which means the world must care in efficient ways to stop such dramas to come back to our daily news and..worries.

  • Peter Salmon-Lomas

    The following site gives some credible & worthwhile information:-

    “Earth’s oceans are gradually feeling more like hot tubs, and the culprit is clear: climate change. Newly published research has uncovered some alarming findings: oceans have warmed more in the past 60 years than they have in the previous 10,000. Worse yet, the water in the Pacific Ocean specifically is warming at a rate 15 times faster than it has in the past 10 millennia.”

  • Theodora Hatzidimitriou

    The World’s First Climate Refugees:

    A report by UN University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security, CARE International and Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network warns that displacement due to global warming will be unprecedented. It estimates that by 2050 there may be 200 million environmentally-induced migrants. However, the exact number of people that will be on the move by mid-century is unknown.

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