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First Study on Climate Change and Internal Migration: World Bank Finds 140 Million Could Be Displaced by 2050

Much of the discussion around climate refugees has focused on movement between countries, with the Syrian refugee crisis serving as a chilling preview of the global exodus to come.

But a new report released by the World Bank on Monday honed in on the problem of internal displacement, finding that as many as 140 million people in three densely-populated, developing regions might be forced by climate change to migrate within their countries' borders by 2050. It is the first report to focus on the impact of climate change on intra-country migration specifically, The Guardian reported.


According to the report's worst-case-scenario prediction, Sub-saharan Africa could see as many as 86 million internal migrants, South Asia could see up to 40 million, and Latin America could see 17 million.

The climate-change effects most likely to force migration will be drought, crop failure, sea level rise, and increased storms. But the report also found that swift action on the part of governments to limit greenhouse gas emissions in time and develop plans to help populations in vulnerable areas could reduce the number of migrants by 100 million.

"We have a small window now, before the effects of climate change deepen, to prepare the ground for this new reality. Steps cities take to cope with the upward trend of arrivals from rural areas and to improve opportunities for education, training and jobs will pay long-term dividends. It's also important to help people make good decisions about whether to stay where they are or move to new locations where they are less vulnerable," Word Bank Chief Executive Officer Kristalina Georgieva said in the release of the report.

The report also offers case studies of how governments and non-governmental organizations might plan effectively for migration or help populations live sustainably in rural areas.

Bangladesh, a low-lying country where agriculture is vulnerable to floods and salinization, could end up accounting for one third of South Asia's climate migrants. The Word Bank highlighted the case of Monoara Khatun, who left her village of Kurigram due to flooding, moved to the capital city of Dhaka, and enrolled in the World Bank's NARI project, which provides women with training, accommodation and work placement. The program allowed her to earn enough to support herself and her family, and represents an example of the type of project that could help urban centers prepare for an influx of vulnerable newcomers.

For an example of a program that could help people in rural areas find climate-resilient opportunities, the World Bank held up sustainable forestry programs like one in Oaxaca, Mexico. Because of the program, 26-year-old Javier Martinez was able to stay in his home and grow the carpentry business he runs with his brother.

"At the forest level there is employment, in businesses there is employment, so there is not a strong need to go away, because in the community there is a wide range of opportunities," Martinez told the World Bank.

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"I will lay this on the foot of those environmental radicals that have prevented us from managing the forests for years. And you know what? This is on them," he said in the interview.

You can listen to the whole thing here:

The remarks come as California has suffered the deadliest blaze in the state's history. The death toll from the Camp Fire, which destroyed the town of Paradise in Northern California, has now risen to 79. Around 1,000 people are still listed as missing, and the fire is now 70 percent contained, according to an Associated Press report Monday.

California Governor Jerry Brown blamed climate change in a statement made last weekend.

"Managing all the forests everywhere we can does not stop climate change, and those who deny that definitely are contributing to the tragedies that we are witnessing and will continue to witness," Brown said.

Regardless, Zinke has remained consistent in pointing the finger at forest management. His current criticisms echo his remarks following other fires this August, in which he said the increasingly frequent and violent blazes were the result of inadequate forest management, and not climate change. He continued in that vein during Sunday's interview:

"In many cases, it's these radical environmentalists who want nature to take its course. We have dead and dying timber. We can manage it using best science, best practices. But to let this devastation go on year after year after year is unacceptable, it's not going to happen. The president is absolutely engaged."

President Donald Trump has indeed vehemently blamed forest mismanagement ever since the recent batch of fires broke out, even threatening at one point to withhold federal funding if the forests weren't managed properly. During a visit to California Saturday to survey damage, Trump brought up forest management again, suggesting that the problem in California was that the forests were not raked enough.

"You look at other countries where they do it differently, and it's a whole different story," he said, as CNN reported. "I was with the president of Finland, and he said: 'We have a much different [sic] ..., we're a forest nation.' And they spent a lot of time on raking and cleaning and doing things, and they don't have any problem," he added.

Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, however, told a Finnish newspaper he did not recall suggesting raking to Trump.

"I mentioned [to] him that Finland is a land covered by forests and we also have a good monitoring system and network," he said.

Finnish people have taken to Twitter to poke fun at the U.S. President's statement using the hashtag "Raking America Great Again."

Despite Trump and Zinke's criticisms, the fact remains that the federal government controls almost 60 percent of the forests in California while the state controls only three percent. Paradise was surrounded by federal, not state, forests. Further, the fires in Southern California spread in suburban and urban areas, The Huffington Post reported.

Some think the emphasis put by Zinke and Trump on forest management is not about preventing fires at all but rather an attempt to justify opening more public forests to private logging interests.

U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks with land managers, private landowners, university staff, and the media about federal forestry and land management at Boise State University on June 2, 2017. USDA photo by Lance Cheung

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