Climate at a Glance: Climate Refugees

Political refugees on a rubber boat in the middle of the sea. The actual number of climate refugees is zero, although the U.N. once predicted 50 million would occur. Image licensed from

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Key Takeaways:

The asserted causes of so-called “climate refugees”— increasing crop failures, catastrophic weather events, and islands lost to rising seas— have not materialized.

Despite much fear-mongering, a majority of the islands some climate activists have predicted would be associated with producing climate refugees due to sea-level rise have had their land mass increase in recent decades, not shrink.

Nearly all of the nations that are expected to produce climate refugees due to crop failures have benefited in recent years from steadily increasing crop yields.

The United Nations confirms casualties linked to climate-related natural disasters have declined this century.

Short Summary:

For the past 30 years, climate activists have claimed that islands, cities, and even entire nations will spawn millions of refugees as climate change makes them uninhabitable. In 1989, for example, a senior U.N. environmental official claimed, “entire nations could be wiped off the face of the Earth by rising sea levels if the global warming trend is not reversed by the year 2000.”1

Similarly, in 2005, the U.N. claimed, “Rising sea levels…will create up to 50 million environmental refugees by the end of the decade.”2

Those predictions proved to be false, along with hundreds of others made by climate change activists. To avoid embarrassment, the United Nations removed the prediction—which we reprint here, as Figure 1—of “50 million environmental refugees” from its website.3

Figure 1. U.N. Map Predicting Where 50 Million Climate Change Refugees Will Move

Figure 1. Original map created in 2005 by the United Nations to illustrate where “50 million climate
refugees” would move. The map has since been removed from the internet by the United Nations.
Source: Anthony Watts, “The UN ‘Disappears’ 50 Million Climate Refugees, then Botches the
Disappearing Attempt,” WattsUpWithThat, April 2011,

As documented in the Climate at a Glance article “Islands and Sea-Level Rise” (see page 30 of the book), most small islands, including the islands of Tuvalu, are growing in size, not shrinking due to rising sea levels.4 Further, nearly every
nation is benefiting from steadily increasing crop yields, which have improved in part because of recent modest warming periods.5 And the number of climate-related disasters, as well as the number of victims from those disasters, has been declining over the past 100 years, as seen in Figure 2.6 The factors that climate activists claim will soon cause numerous climate refugee crises are not present and, in many cases, are actually becoming less common and/or severe.

Figure 2. Number of Climate-Related Disasters per Year by Disaster Sub-Group, 2000–2019

Figure 2. This chart published by the United Nations shows a downward trend in the number of
climate-related disasters. Source: Nima Yaghmaei et al., The Human Cost of Disasters: An Overview
of the Last 20 Years (2000-2019), U.N. Office for Disaster Risk Reduction and Centre for Research
on the Epidemiology of Disasters, October 13, 2020,


  1. See Eric Worrall, “30 Year Anniversary of the UN 1989 ‘10 Years to Save the World’
    Climate Warning,” WattsUpWithThat, June 30, 2019, https://wattsupwiththat.
  2. David Adams, “50 Million Environmental Refugees by End of Decade, UN Warns,” The
    Guardian (U.K.), October 12, 2005,
  3. Anthony Watts, “The UN ‘Disappears’ 50 Million Climate Refugees, then Botches the
    Disappearing Attempt,” WattsUpWithThat, April 2011, https://wattsupwiththat.
  4. The Heartland Institute, “Islands and Sea Level Rise,” Climate at a Glance, accessed
    August 15, 2021,
  5. The Heartland Institute, “Crop Production,” Climate at a Glance, accessed August 15,
  6. The Global Warming Policy Foundation, “UN Disasters Report Is a Huge Blunder and
    Embarrassment,” press release, October 12, 2020,

Climate At A Glance is a Project of The Heartland Institute Comments? Email us: