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Climate change: 20 million climate displaced in 2008

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More than 20 million people have been displaced by climate-related sudden-onset natural disasters in 2008 alone.

"For the first time, we have a solid indication of the scale of forced displacement as a result of sudden-onset natural disasters in the context of climate change", said Elisabeth Rasmusson, Secretary General of the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), at a press briefing at the international climate change talks in Bonn today.

A forthcoming study by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre of the NRC and the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reveals that in 2008 alone, more than 20 million people were displaced by climate-related sudden-onset natural disasters, such as floods and storms.

For example, up to 800 000 people were displaced when Cyclone Nargis hit Myanmar. Many of them have still not been able to return. In Brazil, almost 80 000 people were displaced by heavy rains and floods last November.

Natural disasters are among the leading causes of forced displacement. The findings show that in addition to the over 20 million displaced by climate-related disasters, almost 16 million were displaced by non-climate-related disasters last year. Over the past two decades, the number of recorded natural disasters has doubled from approximately 200 to over 400 per year. The many millions expected to be displaced by prolonged droughts, repeated floods or storms will be especially vulnerable and require significant assistance and protection.

"The new estimates on displacement in relation to climate change are deeply concerning. Clearly, climate-related displacement is significant, and evolving climate change agreements must address displacement issues", Rasmusson underscored.

In a joint statement a group of aid agencies call for the humanitarian impacts of climate change to be addressed in the successor agreement to the Kyoto Protocol. Delegates from 182 countries are gathered in Bonn to discuss key negotiating texts as the basis for a new international climate change deal, to be clinched in Copenhagen in December. The Copenhagen agreement presents a rare opportunity to shape and guide the international response to the humanitarian consequences of climate change over the next decade.

NRC and its partners emphasize that an agreement in Copenhagen must address the challenges posed by migration and forced displacement resulting from climate change.

"We welcome the recognition in the draft negotiating text of migration in relation to climate adaptation, and urge State Parties to keep this reference in the final agreement. In addition, we ask that displacement is explicitly mentioned along with migration", Rasmusson said.

"State Parties must commit to addressing forced displacement in the context of climate change", Rasmusson concluded.