'Nobody is immune': Climate-fuelled disasters forcing millions from their homes

As the 25th UN climate summit gets underway in Spain, a new report by Oxfam has found disasters fuelled by climate change are the top driver of human displacement.

Cyclone Winston destroyed an estimated 24,000 homes and impacted 350,000 people.

Cyclone Winston destroyed an estimated 24,000 homes and impacted 350,000 people. Source: AAP

More than 20 million people across the globe have been displaced by "climate-fuelled" disasters in the past decade, new research by Oxfam has revealed.

The Oxfam report found people are three times more likely to be internally displaced by cyclones, floods and bushfires, than they are by conflict, and seven times more likely than earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

It linked a number of recent catastrophic events to climate change, including Cyclone Winston which devastated Fiji in 2016, the prolonged drought in Guatemala, and recent bushfires across NSW and Victoria.

“The current bushfires in Australia have shown that nobody is immune to the impacts of the climate crisis,” Oxfam Australia climate change advisor Simon Bradshaw told SBS News.

“Our research reaffirms that communities in the Pacific face particularly severe impacts from global heating, including being forced from their homes by extreme weather disasters."

The report linked the recent severe bushfires in Australia to the growing impacts of climate change.
Source: Getty Images

The report found small island nations, including Fiji and some of Australia’s other Pacific neighbours, make up seven of the 10 countries facing the highest risk of internal displacement from extreme weather events.

On average, nearly five per cent of the populations of Tuvalu, Cuba and Dominica were displaced by extreme weather each year in the decade between 2008 and 2018.

Emissions per capita from developing small island nations are about a third of those of high-income countries.

"We can see clearly that extreme weather disasters, many of which of course are being heavily exacerbated by the climate crisis, have been by far the biggest driver of displacement within countries over the last decade," Mr Bradshaw said.

Mr Bradshaw said the report shone a light on the unequal impacts of the climate crisis across the globe.

It found people living in low-income countries such as India, Nigeria, and Bolivia are more than four times likely to be displaced by extreme weather disasters than people in richer countries, such as the United States or Australia.

Tropical Cyclone Vayu threatened millions of people in India in June.
Source: AAP

"It’s very concerning because behind these numbers are people’s lives, their livelihoods," he said.

"If people are being permanently displaced they may be severed from their ancestral land and that’s something that’s extremely painful for communities and causes all sorts of profound challenges."

Oxfam is now calling on world leaders at COP25 to reduce their country's carbon emissions and provide more support to help low-income communities recover from climate disasters.

During the summit, delegates from 125 countries will discuss climate-related challenges and progress towards the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

Spain's acting energy minister, Teresa Ribera, said she's looking for a clear signal of commitment from all members.

"We need people to understand that this is not just a question that was solved in Paris and that's all. This is something that needs to work, needs to advance, needs to raise ambition," she said.

Spain's acting energy minister Teresa Ribera warned the UN Climate Change Conference COP25 must not be treated as a "trade fair".

"The official date to start this rise of ambition is 2020. But this is one month after the end of the COP so we need to ensure that everything is in place to be able to accelerate action next year."

The summit was originally going to be held in Brazil, but a year before the planned start, President Jair Bolsonaro withdrew the offer to host the event, citing economic reasons.

Chile stepped up to become the new host, but recent social unrest saw Spain agree to take hosting duties.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg travelled for three weeks on a 48ft catamaran to get to Spain.
Source: AAP

Teenage climate action activist, Greta Thunberg, will also attend the summit after hitching a ride across the Atlantic with an Australian couple travelling the world on a catamaran.

Ms Ribera said Ms Thunberg is spreading an important message.

"I think she has become a very relevant symbol and reference for a great majority of the society, and she is stressing very simple messages: please pay attention to science, please think of our future."

Published 2 December 2019 at 11:24am, updated 2 December 2019 at 11:41am
By Cassandra Bain