• Mariko Sato | Senior Advisor for the Asia-Pacific Region, International Organization for Migration

Geneva — The global population reached 8 billion last year. Can planet Earth support this growing population?

According to the World Bank, if climate change measures are not taken, up to 216 million people could be internally displaced by 2050. At the International Organization for Migration (IOM), we continue to focus on human displacement caused by extreme weather events and disasters.

In 2022 alone, approximately 61 million people were internally displaced. Among them, around 28.3 million were forced to flee their homes due to conflict and violence, while 32.6 million were displaced by natural hazards, marking the highest number in history. These disasters include the devastating flooding in Pakistan, which submerged approximately one-third of the country, and a typhoon in the Philippines that claimed the lives of around 100 people.

Our planet Earth is now screaming. These screams have turned into anger, mercilessly threatening our lives. This is Earth's retaliation.

Glaciers in the Swiss mountains are visibly retreating, and the Antarctic ice is melting at an accelerating rate. Rising sea levels in the Pacific islands are compelling the evacuation and displacement of entire island populations.

Crop failures and declining marine catches are adding to the global food crisis. Hunger is worsening in Africa, and the number of displaced people is rapidly increasing. Food shortages often trigger conflicts.

Europe continues to experience record heatwaves, while Japan faces an unprecedented frequency and intensity of disasters such as typhoons, storm surges, and torrential rains. Even the future of Kyushu's delicious food is in question, as record low catches of saury (type of fish) continue due to rising sea temperatures off the coast of Sanriku and other changes in the marine environment.


During my visits to disaster-stricken areas in the past, including Myanmar and Bangladesh, to provide emergency humanitarian assistance, I witnessed the devastating destruction of entire villages and the immense challenges in locating missing individuals. It was heartbreaking to see that even those who managed to survive did not receive the necessary medical care or support, resulting in numerous deaths and giving rise to secondary disasters. Often sexual violence and other forms of violence further devastate the already dire situation. The disparity in the value placed on human life compared to Japan was stark and deeply unsettling.

Although natural disasters, the extent of damages that couldn't be seen in Japan felt almost man-made. These disasters are a result of disparity and inequality. Those who have no choice but to live in inadequate housing or high-risk areas, such as outside embankments, are particularly vulnerable to disasters.

Climate change discourse also sheds light on disparities and inequalities. Emerging and developing countries in the "Global South" argue that low CO2-emitting individuals, predominantly poor, are the victims of global warming, while developed nations like Japan have achieved economic growth at the expense of the global environment. This is due to the limited means available to protect themselves from the harmful impacts of climate change.


During the 27th Conference of the Parties (COP27) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in November, the link between climate change and human mobility (displaced persons and migration) was acknowledged for the first time. The parties also agreed to establish a new fund to address "loss and damage" caused by climate change in developing countries, along with a mechanism for developed nations to compensate developing countries.

We need to take unprecedented measures to tackle the unparalleled crisis on our planet. Behavioural change is required from all individuals in all sectors.

Japan, a country prone to disasters, can serve as a model for the world in terms of community disaster management and resilience. For instance, thanks to long-standing tsunami disaster prevention education in Kamaishi City, Iwate Prefecture, most school children were able to evacuate during the Great East Japan Earthquake. Kitakyushu City overcame air and water pollution, leading to blue skies and has become an "environmentally advanced city." A crisis presents an opportunity.

We must become more aware that our daily actions have an impact on the lives of vulnerable people elsewhere in the world. We are more interconnected globally than ever before.


This article was originally published in Japanese in the Nishi-Nippon newspaper on June 5, 2023.





SDG 10 - Reduced Inequalities
SDG 13 - Climate Action