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Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

The U.S. military views climate change as a threat multiplier, one that is likely to worsen already existing weaknesses of government and poverty.

Why it matters: Internal and external climate displacement is already occurring. Depending how quickly and significantly temperatures rise, the specter of climate migration and refugee flows looms large by midcentury.

Rising seas: In 2017 alone, nearly 19 million new internal displacements were recorded in more than 130 countries worldwide, largely triggered by extreme weather events such as floods and tropical cyclones, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center. That's more than were displaced due to armed conflict in the same year, and climate change is aggravating many of these extreme weather events.

Residents of small island nations like the Marshall Islands, Vanuatu and Kiribati are fleeing rising tides and powerful storms to seek better economic opportunities in the U.S. mainland and elsewhere. Other small island countries are wrestling with contingency plans should waters rise too high.

  • A recent U.N. climate report found that many low-lying island states will face an existential threat should global warming exceed 1.5°C, or 2.7°F, above preindustrial levels by 2100.
  • On our present course, we're headed for more than 3°C, or 5.4°F, above preindustrial levels by the end of the century. Such scenarios could even spur millions of Americans to migrate away from the coast, too.
  • Elsewhere, sea level rise and the monsoon season have pushed populations inland in heavily populated Bangladesh, as Rohingya refugees are forced to settle in marginal areas vulnerable to flooding.

Drought: In addition to sea level rise, water stress is the biggest concern of humanitarian groups and military planners.

  • By making droughts hotter and drier, the threat of drought induced migration and conflict is growing in areas that are vulnerable to social and military strife.
  • Climate studies have tied the Syrian Civil War's beginnings in part to a record drought that struck the Fertile Crescent in 2007-2010, which set in motion political events that set the country on a ruinous course.
  • That drought, climate models show, was made more likely and severe due to global warming.

Precise NASA satellite measurements of groundwater storage — which acts as a water savings bank for farmers — show water stress building in heavily populated and conflict-prone parts of the world: Places like the border region between Pakistan and India, the Fertile Crescent, and the Northwest Sahara Aquifer System, which provides water for Algeria, Tunisia and war-torn Libya.

The big picture: The locations most at risk from climate change-related stresses in the near-term includes heavily populated areas like India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, and extends around the world to parts of South America and Africa, encompassing well over a billion people.

The bottom line: No refugee crisis or migration flow is purely due to climate change. But already, global warming-related factors are playing a role in setting people into motion, both within countries and between them.

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - World

Mexican President López Obrador tests positive for coronavirus

Mexico's President Andrés Manuel López Obrador during a press conference at National Palace in Mexico City, Mexico, on Wednesday. Photo: Ismael Rosas/Eyepix Group/Barcroft Media via Getty Images

Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced Sunday evening that he's tested positive for COVID-19.

Driving the news: López Obrador tweeted that he has mild symptoms and is receiving medical treatment. "As always, I am optimistic," he added. "We will all move forward."

7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Sarah Huckabee Sanders to run for governor of Arkansas

Sarah Huckabee Sanders at FOX News' studios in New York City in 2019. Photo: Steven Ferdman/Getty Images

Former White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders will announce Monday that she's running for governor of Arkansas.

The big picture: Sanders was touted as a contender after it was announced she was leaving the Trump administration in June 2019. Then-President Trump tweeted he hoped she would run for governor, adding "she would be fantastic." Sanders is "seen as leader in the polls" in the Republican state, notes the Washington Post's Josh Dawsey, who first reported the news.

Coronavirus has inflamed global inequality

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

History will likely remember the pandemic as the "first time since records began that inequality rose in virtually every country on earth at the same time." That's the verdict from Oxfam's inequality report covering the year 2020 — a terrible year that hit the poorest, hardest across the planet.

Why it matters: The world's poorest were already in a race against time, facing down an existential risk in the form of global climate change. The coronavirus pandemic could set global poverty reduction back as much as a full decade, according to the World Bank.