Displacement in Wales

6 February, 2023
By Rhia Danis, Climate Cymru Ambassador

Image: Woman in red robe walking through a dusty landscape, Darfur (Climate Visuals)

Rhia Danis is an experienced Consultant with a demonstrated history of working with grassroots and international NGOs. Her specific interests are in human rights, migration, environmental justice, and women’s health.

Climate change is one of the most pressing environmental issues that threatens life as we know it.

The impact of climate change interweaves into almost every part of our day to day lives, including weather patterns, living conditions and our food system. This threatens national security, economics, and agriculture. These conditions can become increasingly threatening around the world.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) predicts that an average of 21.5 million people have had to leave their homes as a result of climate-related incidents: this means extreme weather changes, storms, and floods. The UNHCR found that 95% of displacement from conflict or war took place in countries that were highly susceptible to the effects of climate change.

Saraf, 8: a local girl sitting on a submerged car outside her family home, flooded by a tidal surge in Chaktai, Chittagong.

Saraf, 8: a local girl sitting on a submerged car outside her family home, flooded by a tidal surge in Chaktai, Chittagong.

Global average temperatures have risen by 1°C over the last century, and climate scientists believe that warming could be between 3-5 °C by the end of this century. Our oceans absorb around 90% of that heat, but warmer water expands, and this, along with water being released from melting polar ice, is causing global sea levels to rise.

Climate Refugees

Environmental migrants, or climate refugees as they are better known, are people facing displacement primarily due to effects of climate change. The term was defined by Essam El-Hinnawi, UN Environmental Programme expert in 1985, as individuals “forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of marked environmental disruption.” Although the term is widely used, it is not legally recognised as a definition for migrants facing climate driven displacement.

But why is it so difficult to define climate refugees? 

Not only is it a challenge to identify refugees as ‘climate refugees’ but it is also unrealistic to associate climate change as the singular factor for their displacement. Many communities or individuals facing the effects of climate destruction are also facing political or economic uncertainty. These issues are all interlinked.

A couple cleaning up after the flash floods that ripped through their riverside cottage in Wales in 2012

Climate Refugees in Wales

Fairbourne is a community in Wales that sits between Snowdonia and the Irish Sea. It is facing risk of rising sea levels forcing local people to move out of their homes. The small community regularly experiences flooding which devastates their homes and businesses. Gwynedd Council has predicted that by 2054, Fairbourne will no longer be able to withstand the attacks from the climate crisis. This is not merely a problem for the future or for distant nations. The fact that it is taking place just outside our front door proves how universal the problem is. To truly implement meaningful change will require global effort and solidarity.

This is not a standalone story, and with the effects of climate change accelerating we are likely to see how it impacts more and more people, with risks intensifying over time. 

Can we reduce Wales’ carbon footprint?

There are solutions close at hand. Recently, members of the Senedd passed a motion on the global impact of Wales’ consumption. This motion highlighted that “more than 50 per cent of global forest loss and land conversion is attributable to the production of agricultural commodities and forestry products demanded by consumers”. It called on the Welsh Government to strengthen its economic contract and commit to supply chains that are free from deforestation, social exploitation, and conversion. Additionally, it proposes that Wales develops new trade agreements that will guarantee high environmental and human rights standards, placing people at the centre of negotiations.

Climate experts warn that we will witness a surge in communities facing displacement. Without proper mitigation we could see thousands more having to flee their homes. It is imperative that we urge governments globally to prioritise sustainable solutions.

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