A Small Increase in Temperature Adds to Displacement

With the world hurtling towards a 2.7°C temperature increase by 2100 and energy-related emissions reaching record highs in 2022, the Lancet Countdown on Health and Climate Change's 2023 report issues a stark warning. The report underscores the catastrophic threat posed to the health and survival of billions due to delays in limiting temperature increase to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels.

Even a one degree increase in temperature could cause a tenfold increase in displaced people, according to a new research by the University of Oxford.

The research, which studied the effects of conflict, weather, and drought, on forced displacement in Somalia, said that a typical reduction in rainfall of 50 mm per month could also lead displacement to double.

Lead author Dr Lisa Thalheimer said, “the lives of pastoralists and farmers in Somalia are balanced on a knife edge. Even a 1°C rise on normal temperatures – whether sustained or frequently re-occurring over a few months – is enough to cause pastures to dry up and crop yield to change.”

“Our research shows these seemingly small temperature changes are having an out sized impact and are forcing communities to leave their homes. Our Somalia research found a 1 °C warming is estimated to lead to a ten-fold increase in expected displacement. It is alarming that, even this marginal change in temperature, has such a huge impact. It highlights the likely effect climate change is having on vulnerable areas across the African dry lands,” she said.


  •  An increase in local monthly temperature by 1 °C led to an approximate ten-fold (1098%) eventual increase in expected displacement.
  • If average monthly rainfall declined from 100mm to 50mm, predicted numbers for internally displaced populations in Somalia doubled.


Study author Moritz Schwarz, from Oxford’s Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment said that the impacts of climate change are already being felt by these vulnerable regions and are likely to get worse,’ says. “Our research suggests investing in adaptation measures, building local capacity and arranging for rapid humanitarian aid will be key to avoid mass displacement events in future, and helping to stop extreme weather or conflict situations from turning into full blown disasters,” the researcher said.

The detailed analysis also revealed that conflict is a major driver of displacement. The role of conflict on forced migration has been hard to understand, and can be masked when combined with other self-reported reasons for migration such as drought, say the authors.

The study also investigated if displaced persons increase the probability of conflict in their destination region, possibly through increased pressure on scarce resources such as food and drinking water. But this was found not to be the case.

Dr Felix Pretis, a study author from the University of Victoria, says, ‘Crucially, we find little effect of incoming displaced people on conflict itself…This finding is novel, and dispels the common myth that displacement might further fuel conflicts.’

The international team, based at Oxford’s Climate Econometrics, the University of Victoria, and Princeton University, analysed highly-detailed localised data from the 18 separate regions of Somalia, exploring the reasons over two million people were forced to flee over a two year period.


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