Susan Maure Clandillon

August 3, 2020

"One miserable reality after another": The human cost of climate change

“One miserable reality after another”: The human cost of climate change

Susan Maure Clandillon

August 3, 2020

An overwhelming majority of people now accept that climate change is real. However distressing, over time we have become accustomed to images of emaciated polar bears foraging in rubbish bins, bleached coral and ice sheets plunging into the ocean. 


While we may recognize these physical signs that our climate is changing (thanks in part to efforts from celebrated naturalist and broadcaster David Attenborough) the human costs of climate change are more opaque. 


The facts of this global issue

Increased incidences of extreme weather like flooding, drought, wild fires and heatwaves are making some parts of our planet uninhabitable. Researchers predict that by 2070, more than 3 billion people could live in extreme heat zones. With temperature rises threatening food and water security, naturally people are on the move.  

This is a global issue. UN forecasts estimate that there could be anywhere between 25 million and 1 billion environmental migrants by 2050. Whilst many of these migrants will move internally within their countries’ borders towards urban areas, some will flee their homelands under a myriad of threats including rising sea levels.

Climate-related asylum

Already we are beginning to see asylum claims related to climate change. In January 2020, the UN Human Rights Committee in Geneva heard the case of Ioane Teitiota from Kiribati (a pacific island). Ioane was deported from New Zealand with his wife and children in 2015. In its first ruling on an individual seeking asylum due to climate change, the Committee ruled that countries may not deport individuals who face climate change-induced conditions that violate the right to life. 

This landmark verdict creates a precedent and signals to countries all over the world that we are all responsible for ensuring that those worst affected by the climate crisis have a legal right to protection and asylum. Speaking to us about global migration and climate change, Alice Dawson-Lyons, Head of Communications and Campaigns at Oxfam Ireland, said: 

“While we in Ireland talk about what needs to be done between here and 2030 to reduce our carbon emissions, the climate crisis is a devastating reality for vulnerable communities in developing countries right now.” 

According to the International Organisation for Migration, 2019 saw nearly 2,000 disasters triggering 24.9 million  new  internal displacements across 140 countries and territories  –  this is the highest figure recorded since 2012 with four countries accounting for more than 17 million of the new internal displacements: India (5 million), the Philippines (4.1 million), Bangladesh (4.1 million), and China (4 million).

One miserable reality after another

Alice elaborated on the situation for some of the world’s poorest people:

“The world’s poorest, who did the least to create climate change are the most affected by it, facing unpredictable and extreme weather events that threaten their lives and livelihoods –  drought that means crops fail season after season, locust swarms decimating harvests, flooding and monsoons and bush fires that destroy everything in their path. On top of that, vulnerability to disaster and climate change perpetuates and deepens poverty and suffering, adding to the number of people who go to bed hungry each night.”

COVID-19: “A warm-up to the climate crisis”

Alice spoke to us about how the spirit of international cooperation must be maintained as we recover from the pandemic:

“COVID-19 has rightly called for collective, decisive action from world leaders – action that has saved lives. But even in times of crisis, our leaders must not lose sight of their duty to uphold environmental protection – as in many ways this pandemic is a dress rehearsal for the climate emergency. Unlike COVID-19, the climate crisis is not an immediate threat to our lives here in Ireland. However, we have already seen its effects and in the longer term, it will pose a much greater threat to our existence.” 

“As for the people in developing countries with whom Oxfam works, the climate crisis is not a future threat but an imminent one. As with COVID-19, we are in this together and therefore, serious action on climate must be taken now and we must aim to meet and accelerate [climate] targets as a matter of urgency.”


Climate change shows up the inequalities and injustices in our social and economic systems and amplifies them. It is the most vulnerable in our societies that stand to lose the most from climate change. We all have a role to play in lessening the impact of the climate catastrophe, from holding our government to account on its climate pledges, to living more sustainably and using our voices to stand up for the most vulnerable among us through active protest and allyship. 

We in Ireland must be willing and ready to welcome migrants whose homelands have been decimated by climate change. It is not a case of if they will come, but when. Climate change is no longer just about global warming and biodiversity loss, but is also social justice issue and a human rights issue. The onus is on us to make sure the land of 100,000 welcomes lives up to its name.