IDMC: International Climate Refugees are a Myth

Guest essay by Eric Worrall

IDMC, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, thinks there are lots of climate refugees, but they mainly stay at home.

IDMC has been busting myths around displacement linked with climate change and disasters since 2008. Let’s join forces

News and Press Release 

Posted 4 Nov 2020 
Originally published 22 Oct 2020 Origin View original


As we speak, the number of Internally Displaced People (IDPs) worldwide has reached an all-time high. Disasters triggered the majority of new displacements in 2019, almost 25 million or two-thirds of the total, and most were linked to weather-related hazards such as storms, floods and droughts. With the expected impacts of climate change, these numbers will likely increase unless we get serious about addressing the structural causes that expose people and make them vulnerable to disaster displacement.

In the past months, however, IDMC has become concerned by the narrative that surrounds climate change and displacement, largely fuelled by unverified rumours circulating on social media. Just as the World Health Organization is fighting ‘infodemics’ related to COVID-19, we feel the need to tackle misinformation about displaced populations. There are a number of myths that are being perpetuated at the peril of those affected by disaster displacement. IDMC has been monitoring and analysing disaster displacement since 2008, and we want to counter these myths with the evidence we have gathered over more than two decades.


Climate change is seen as directly and automatically translating to large-scale, cross-border movements of people and significant new migration to high-income regions. This risks restricting both human mobility and access to international protection, sometimes at the cost of more investment in risk reduction, peace building and sustainable development. In reality, climate migration is largely internal. According to the World Bank, without urgent global and national action, sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America could see more than 140 million people move within their countries by 2050.

Our original research on the complex dynamics of human mobility in the context of climate change and on the many factors influencing internal to cross-border flight among IDPs and refugees, provides a very different picture to the common narrative of billions of migrants on the borders of Europe. Instead of directing attention toward border controls and deterrence, it supports a renewed emphasis on resilience building in countries most affected by climate change and a focus on local and national leadership.

If you are interested in participating in the kick-off events, please contact


I think the suggestion people moving a few miles down the road is “climate migration” is a little dubious. There are plenty of reasons people might want to say move away from a major river which have nothing to do with climate change.

For example, when the UK experienced severe flooding in 2015, British government officials were quick to blame climate change. British people who moved to higher ground to escape the flood risk, by the IDMC’s definition, would now be considered to be internally displaced “climate refugees”.

Not so fast.

… It was obvious to people, who depended on the land for their living that failing to keep the rivers clear of sand and gravel would cause them to burst their banks and destroy in a few hours fertility that had taken generations to create, wash away their houses, and drown their livestock.

Last century the obligation to dredge out the rivers was transferred to local river boards, consisting of farmers and landowners who knew the area and its characteristics, and who had statutory responsibilities to prevent or minimise flooding.

But all this changed with the creation of the Environment Agency in 1997 and when we adopted the European Water Framework Directive in 2000. No longer were the authorities charged with a duty to prevent flooding. Instead, the emphasis shifted, in an astonishing reversal of policy, to a primary obligation to achieve ‘good ecological status’ for our national rivers. This is defined as being as close as possible to ‘undisturbed natural conditions’. ‘Heavily modified waters’, which include rivers dredged or embanked to prevent flooding, cannot, by definition, ever satisfy the terms of the directive. So, in order to comply with the obligations imposed on us by the EU we had to stop dredging and embanking and allow rivers to ‘re-connect with their floodplains’, as the currently fashionable jargon has it.

And to ensure this is done, the obligation to dredge has been shifted from the relevant statutory authority (now the Environment Agency) onto each individual landowner, at the same time making sure there are no funds for dredging. And any sand and gravel that might be removed is now classed as ‘hazardous waste’ and cannot be deposited to raise the river banks, as it used to be, but has to be carted away.

Author: Local farmer and historian Phillip Walling

Read more:

If the author is correct, the serial incompetence of British river management authorities who failed to dredge the rivers is the true culprit, combined with heavy handed micromanagement from Brussels, not climate change.

There are plenty of other government failures which could be responsible for driving internal migration. For example, there has been a massive rise in recent years in the distribution of fake anti-malarials. Genuine Anti-malarial drugs and chemicals are expensive, so there are huge profits for criminals and corrupt government officials who commit such fraud.

A reasonable response to a severe uptick in malaria caused by such evil would be to migrate away from malaria prone swamps, to drier ground where you have more chance of avoiding infection. Surprise, more “climate refugees”.

Given the lack of genuine international climate refugees, I expect to see many more attempts in the future to redefine the term “climate refugee” to include pretty much anyone who decides to move home, even if they stay in the same country.

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via Watts Up With That?

November 5, 2020 at 08:28PM

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