1.12.2009 | Von:
Thomas Hummitzsch

Affected areas

In addition to the estimates given above, even the size of the population in areas that will be particularly affected by climate change can provide a useful reference as to the number of people who will be facing special climatic challenges in future and who may possibly regard migration as an alternative.
Im Vorfeld der Klimakonferenz in Kopenhagen 2009 hält der Präsident der Malediven in einer PR-Aktion eine Kabinettssitzung unter Wasser ab.In 2009 the president of the Maldives holds a makeshift cabinet meeting under water to point out climate change and rising sea levels. (© picture-alliance/dpa)

The United Nations standing committee responsible for determining internationally recognised terminology (Inter-Agency Standing Committee, IASC) [1] has identified four important scenarios that are likely to trigger migratory movements:
  1. Hydro-meteorological extreme hazard events
  2. Environmental degradation and/or slow onset extreme hazard events
  3. Significant permanent losses in state territory
  4. Armed conflict/violence over shrinking natural resources
It is a decisive aspect in all scenarios that climate-related migratory movements may take place both within the affected nation states and across international borders, and may be further assigned case-by-case to a continuum of voluntary migration, preventative migration and refugeeism. Such migration may also be either temporary or permanent.

Endangered states are deemed in general to be the poorly developed island states (Small Island Developing States, or SIDS), the sub-Saharan states, Asian coastal states, the Polar region, African developing states (Less Developed Countries, or LDC), the least developed countries worldwide (Least Developed Countries, or LLDC), the Near and Middle East, and Central Asia. [2] Depending on the nature of the consequences of climate change, areas affected in line with the IASC scenarios may be divided into the following categories.

Areas affected by significant, permanent losses in state territory

This phenomenon comes as a result of rising sea levels and will most probably affect the South Pacific island states in particular (Carteret Islands, Kiribati, the Maldives, the Marshall Islands, Palau, the Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tuvalu and Vanuatu), which have come to be known as "Sinking Islands", but also low-lying coastal regions in Alaska and the Bay of Bengal. As a result of land losses and the salinisation of coastal regions, some states have already started to permanently relocate inhabitants of their island states, while other countries are not ruling out the possibility of the permanent relocation of all or large parts of their populations. [3] The possibility of relocation to a receiving country or else the founding of new states on uninhabited islands or ceded territories could be considered.

Flood areas

The rise in sea levels in particular, as well as its hydro-meteorological consequences (increase in periodic floods, tropical storms, coastal erosion, salinisation of coastal waters), represents an important possible inducement for mass-migration. This would affect coastal regions. in addition to small island nations,. According to the Stern Review, by 2080 between 10 and 300 million people will have been affected by the rise in sea level alone, assuming a temperature rise of between 2°C and 4°C. The IOM estimates that an one-metre rise in sea level would affect 360 000 kilometres of coastline worldwide. Roughly two thirds of the world´s population live no further than 100 km from the coast, and areas that lie a maximum of ten metres above sea level alone, the so-called Low Elevation Coastal Zone (LECZ), are home to 634 million people – nearly a tenth of the world´s current population. Of these, 360 million live in large towns near the coast (in other words, 13% of the global population living in towns). Most of the people in the zone that is affected by rising sea levels live in Asia, Africa and Europe. A current study on the rate of urbanisation in the LECZ recently showed that, alongside the small island states, the densely settled and heavily urbanised deltas and coastal areas in Asia and Africa are particularly exposed to an increased risk of flooding. [4]

Most strongly affected states with coastal areas up to a maximum of 10 m above sea level (LECZ)
States ranked according to population in LECZStates ranked according to population percentage in LECZ
StatePopulationIn PercentStatePopulationIn Percent
1. China143.879.600111.Bahamas266.58088
2. India63.341.20862. Suriname317.68376
3. Bang-
62.524.048463. Nether-
4. Viet-
43.050.593554. Vietnam43.050.59355
5. Indo-
41.609.754205. Guyana415.45655
6. Japan30.477.106246. Bangla-
7. Egypt25.655.481387. Belize91.26840
8. USA22.859.35988. Djibouti248.39439
9. Thai-
16.478.448269. Gambia510.15939
10. Philipp-
13.329.1911810. Egypt25.655.48138
Source: Balk (2008).
The listed countries have a minimum population of 100,000 people and a minimum area of 1,000 km². This therefore omits, for example, the Maldives, whose total population according to the study carried out by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research is resident within the LECZ. In addition, there are 15 small island states with a total population of 423,000 where more than 39% of the population is living in low-lying coastal regions. These are also not included here.

Not everyone in the LECZ will have to leave their homes, but rising sea levels could place those in low-lying areas and areas near the coast in acute danger. According to a study carried out by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research, there are already about 200 million people living in coastal areas that lie less than a metre above sea level. Thirty of the world´s 50 biggest cities lie directly on a seacoast. In the event of a rise of just one metre, according to the study, Egypt´s Nile Delta and close to a fifth of Bangladesh (with 35 million inhabitants) would be especially affected, as too would large areas of Suriname, Guyana, French Guiana, the Bahamas, Benin, Mauritania, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, Pakistan, India, Vietnam and China. [5]

In Europe, an estimated 13 million people would be threatened by a one-metre rise in sea level (especially in the Netherlands and Denmark), including about 3.2 million in the German flood plains. [6] Should sea levels rise by up to one metre, as anticipated, people living in low-lying coastal areas and sea deltas around the world will have hardly any other alternative than to emigrate to other areas.


IASC, 2008.
Kolmannskog 2008.
Kelman 2008; Loughry & McAdam 2008; Cameron-Glickenhaus 2008.
Balk 2008.
Jakobeit & Methmann 2007.
Endlicher & Gerstengabe (eds.) 2008.



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