In some commentators the recent news about fast rise of CO2 emissions has elicited a return to the pre-Copenhagen apocalyptic rhetoric. Central elements are the 450pmm CO2 concentrations to avoid 2 degrees C rise of global average temperatures which is believed to be the absolute upper limit before climate change enters a runaway process towards the final collapse.
Part of this rhetoric is the impact climate change will have on poorer, and richer nations, especially in terms of mass migration. It is assumed that people who leave their homes in Asia or Africa because their livelihoods are affected will come to the Western World, causing problems. In this part of the narrative, climate change is mainly a socio-economic problem which affects the rich countries most. Lord Stern has recently commented in such a way. He told the Guardian: “Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce.”
It is not clear if this is an honest assessment or a ploy to make climate policies more digestible to decision makers and the electorate. In other words, this might be an appeal to fears about being 'swamped' by poor immigrants.
Studies show that wild predictions about 200m climate refugees by mid-century are just that, wild predictions. There are two reasons for a much less dramatic assessment. One is the determination of displaced people to return to their homes when floods recede. This means that numbers of migrants might be much lower as predicted.
The other is the sheer economic benefit mass migration brigs to the economy, worldwide (Exceptional People: How migration shaped our world and will define our future. By Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron and Meera Balarajan. Princeton University Press; reviewed in The Economist May28th). If mass migration is a boon to mankind, there would be one less killer argument in the apocalyptic repertoire, it seems.