Climate change and mass migration

Sir, – As the world watches, debates and, hopefully, responds to the refugee crisis unfolding in the Mediterranean, it may be worthwhile reflecting that this current wave of migration is simply a taste of things likely to come within the next few decades.

Over 50 per cent of humanity now lives within a few kilometres of the sea, and most of the world’s major cities are on the coast and already liable to flooding. It is now overwhelmingly accepted that, as global climate change continues, many coastal areas, including such very densely populated places as the Nile Delta, Bangladesh, and even most of Florida in the United States, will be increasingly impacted by rising sea levels and much more frequent and severe weather events, such as hurricanes, cyclones and storm surges.

Under a changing climate, many of these places will progressively become simply uninhabitable and some whole countries, particularly low-lying island states in the Pacific and Indian Oceans, are expected to disappear completely.

Inevitably, this will lead to a mass exodus of people from the affected areas.


Add to this the likely impacts of climate change on the world’s water availability, and the viability of agriculture and food production. The Sahara Desert is progressively moving northwards, and is encroaching upon the Mediterranean and the Maghreb countries on its southern shore. In Asia, the glaciers of the Himalayas are rapidly diminishing, putting at risk the water supply and the agricultural productivity of much of northern India, Pakistan and Bangladesh.

Comparable changes are happening across the developing world, and also in many more developed countries, including in Europe and North America. Wherever they happen, they will put further pressure on the affected populations to leave and seek better prospects elsewhere.

Where are they to go? We should be seeing the present crisis in the Mediterranean as a practice run and, however we respond, our actions or inactions are likely to set precedents that may come back to haunt us in years to come. – Yours, etc,


Department of Geography,

University College Cork.