Interior chief: ‘We will have climate refugees’

Interior chief: ‘We will have climate refugees’
© Getty Images

Interior Secretary Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellNational parks pay the price for Trump's Independence Day spectacle Overnight Energy: Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone | UN report offers dire climate warning | Trump expected to lift ethanol restrictions Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone MORE is warning that, regardless of governments’ work to combat climate change, the United States and other countries will have to deal with populations displaced by its effects. 

“We can stem the increase in temperature. We can stem some of the effects, perhaps, if we act on climate as we are committed to do through the Paris accords,” Jewell said in Ottawa on Thursday, the Canadian Press reports. “But the changes are underway and they are very rapid. We will have climate refugees.”


Jewell pointed to far-flung communities in Alaska, noting that rising sea levels in the Arctic are expected to force the relocation of hundreds of Alaskans from their homes. 

“We have to figure out how to deal with potentially relocating villages, or supporting communities in their adaptation and in building resilience within those communities to a changed reality,” she said.

A climate-induced refugee crisis is a worry for the Obama administration. Obama himself visited Alaska last year to see the extent of climate change in the state, highlighting the plight of Kivalina, a village of 400 threatened by coastal erosion. 

Secretary of State John KerryJohn Forbes KerryWarren, Buttigieg fight echoes 2004 campaign, serves as warning for 2020 race Krystal Ball: New Biden ad is everything that's wrong with Democrats The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats worry about diversity on next debate stage MORE has long warned diminishing water supplies and the movement of refugees could lead to a rise in extremism in parts of the world.

During her meeting with Jewell, Canadian Environmental Minister Catherine McKenna offered a more restrained warning about climate refugees, saying “real conversations” about the issue are needed with the Inuit in the Arctic. 

But Jewell said more should be done, and quickly.

“We need to provide support for adaptation and build communities that are resilient in the face of what’s happening in the Arctic,” the secretary said. “You’re not going to be able to turn this around.”