"Every day, climate change becomes a more urgent economic, social, and existential threat to countries and their people," World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva wrote in a statement included with the report. "Increasingly, we are seeing climate change become an engine of migration, forcing individuals, families and even whole communities to seek more viable and less vulnerable places to live."
Unsurprisingly, such a massive displacement could have major repercussions, threatening governance, leading to enormous disruptions and harming economic and social development, researchers noted. But they said there's still time to curb the problem before it's too late.
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"Climate change-driven migration will be a reality, but it does not need to be a crisis, provided we take action now and act boldly," John Roome, a senior director for climate change at the World Bank group, told The Guardian. "Local planners need to make sure the resources are made available, and to make sure it takes place in a comprehensive and coordinated manner," he said.
Roome also advised governments to take three key actions to address the issue: accelerate reductions of greenhouse gas emissions, start incorporating climate change related migration into their national development strategies and invest in compiling further data and analysis to be used in this process.
"We have a small window now, before the effects of climate change deepen, to prepare the ground for this new reality," Kristalina Georgieva, World Bank's Chief Executive Officer, said, according to TIME. "Steps cities take to cope with the upward trend of arrivals from rural areas and to improve opportunities for education, training and jobs will pay long-term dividends."
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While the entire world will be affected by climate change, researchers warn that the poorest and most vulnerable nations will be hit hardest by rising temperatures and shifting weather patterns. Low-lying cities, coastal areas, as well as areas of high water and agriculture will suffer the most within developing nations.
"Many urban ... areas will need to prepare for an influx of people, including through improved housing and transportation infrastructure, social services, and employment opportunities," researchers wrote in the report.
The strong warning from the World Bank follows numerous others from leading scientists and international organizations.
In December, a major scientific study suggested that the worst-case predictions regarding the effects of global warming are the most likely to be true.
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"Our study indicates that if emissions follow a commonly used business-as-usual scenario, there is a 93 per cent chance that global warming will exceed 4°C by the end of this century," Dr. Ken Caldeira, an atmospheric scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science, who co-authored the study, said at the time.
Last year, more than 15,000 scientists from around the world signed an open letter warning that quick and drastic actions should be undertaken by society to address the threat of climate change.
"Soon it will be too late to shift course away from our failing trajectory, and time is running out," scientists wrote in the letter. "We must recognize, in our day-to-day lives and in our governing institutions, that Earth with all its life is our only home."
If governments begin heeding these warnings, the number of displaced individuals could be reduced by tens of millions, according to Georgieva.
"There is an opportunity now to plan and act for emerging climate change threats," she said.
Read the full study at WorldBank.org.