Sustainability Climate Change

Extreme weather is now the biggest cause of people worldwide being forced out of their homes

a photo of a woman in Ethiopia facing drought
Pablo Tosco/Oxfam

Story at a glance

  • The humanitarian organization Oxfam analyzed data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre and found that climate-fueled disasters are now the top driver of internal displacement.
  • Internal displacement happens when people are forced from their homes but stay within their country’s borders.
  • The report notes that poor countries tend to face the most risk of internal displacement because of extreme weather.
  • Internal displacement is certainly a warning sign, but it’s also important to consider the people who have few choices aside from riding out climate-fueled disasters.

Climate-fueled disasters like floods and wildfires forced an estimated 20 million people from their homes per year over the last decade, according to a new analysis by Oxfam, a humanitarian organization. 

The Oxfam report, called “Forced from Home,” explains that extreme weather disasters made more likely by climate change are now the number one driver of internal displacement globally. Oxfam examined data from the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. And they found that 87 percent of people who became displaced within their country’s borders during the last 10 years were driven from their homes because of extreme weather disasters. 

“We want people to understand that extreme weather events are now one of the leading causes of displacement of people around the world,” says Jesse Young, Oxfam America’s climate policy lead, “and that disproportionately impacts people in the poorest parts of the world.”

The report notes that while no one can consider themselves immune from the risk of internal displacement and extreme weather, “it is overwhelmingly the poor countries that are most at risk.” For example, small island states (such as Cuba and Tuvalu) comprise seven of the 10 countries that face the highest risk of internal displacement due to extreme weather — burdened by 150 times the risk faced by communities in Europe. 

And several poor countries face a double whammy: Large numbers of people are displaced by both conflict and climate change. Additionally, climate change might be aggravating political instability and is a potential driver of conflict.

“There is increasing evidence that the climate crisis is exacerbating instability in many regions, worsening the conditions that lead to conflict, and increasing the risk of conflict in the future,” the report’s authors write. “For example, in the Sahel, recurring drought and floods are squeezing already limited resources such as pastures and water points, further fuelling tensions between communities whose frustrations are being manipulated by armed groups.”

Although displacement is certainly a warning sign, it’s also important to consider the people who stay home during meteorological disasters.

“While climate displacement is terrible, we should also keep in mind that sometimes the people most severely impacted by climate change are those who can’t leave their homes,” Young says. “Sometimes people who are sick or caring for an ill family member have to stay put, even in really terrible circumstances.”

He continues, “Climate change forces people to live in ever more inhospitable environments, no matter whether they’re able to move or not.”

Oxfam is calling for “more urgent and ambitious emissions reductions” as well as more financial support for communities dealing with climate shocks.