Which Countries Already Have Climate Change Refugees?
Rising seas and violent storms are wreaking havoc on small island communities, so how are people coping with climate change displacement?
Despite a coordinated campaign to convince us otherwise, there is no scientific debate on the issue of anthropogenic climate change. Global warming is real, it's happening right now, and it's already producing the first wave of climate refugees.
In today's Seeker Daily special, photojournalist and multimedia producer Vlad Sokhin talks about his latest project, "Warm Waters." which chronicles the lives of those on the front lines of climate change.
Sokhin's initial inquiries focus on island nations in the tropical Pacific region known as Oceania. Tuvalu, the fourth-smallest nation on Earth, consists of nine low-lying islands with 11,000 citizens living on just 26 square kilometers of real estate. Rising sea levels and increasingly severe storms have already had a severe impact on the tiny island nation.
"I have seen villages completely destroyed by strong winds and huge storm surges," Sokhin says. "People have lost their lives and communities have been displaced from places where their families have lived for generations."
The situation in Tuvalu is so dire that around a fifth of the nation's population has already left to seek refuge on larger islands. Sokhin considers these Tuvaluans to be the planet's first genuine climate change refugees.
And he predicts there will be many more.
"The island nation of Kiribati, for example, is facing the threat of rising sea levels," Sokhin says. "The government bought some land in Fiji recently where its residents will be relocated in the event sea levels rise to the point that it drowns this Pacific island nation."
Sokhin adds that climate change refugees will face many of the same difficulties as traditional refugees.
"If they move to Fiji, Kiribati people will not have the same rights as Fijian citizens," he says. "They won't be able to vote, they will always be seen as immigrants, and they're at high risk of losing their national identity."
In the near future, the climate refugee crisis won't be limited to small Pacific islands, either. Current sea level projections indicate that, within 100 years, more than 400 U.S. coastal cities will be facing the same problems as Tuvalu and Kiribati.
"Some climate scientists predict that by the end of the century places like Miami, Amsterdam, Hamburg or Lisbon could be affected by rising sea levels," Sokhin says.
"If this becomes a reality, it won't only impact these areas environmentally -- but culturally and politically, as well. The struggle for resources, land, food and fresh water may cause local and global conflicts, It's clear that it's the greatest issue that we will be facing soon."
UNHCR: Climate Change
Christian Science Monitor: Pacific Islanders: Climate change creates new category of refugees