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This event took place on Thursday 16 March. You can watch the recording below.

In this Nesta talks to... Gaia Vince, journalist and broadcaster sat down with Nesta’s Laurie Smith to explore the often neglected issue of climate refugees, how their movement will shape human society in years to come and the innovative solutions we’ll need to respond to this seismic shift.

Laurie began by situating their conversation within the narrative around the rise of hostility towards immigrants. Gaia advocates for the benefits of immigration, citing numerous studies that have shown that immigrants improve the GDP of countries they enter and that global GDP could even triple with the removal of borders. Migration is a climate and social issue and is increasingly becoming a climate one too. She has already seen people forced to leave their home as a result of climate-related weather changes firsthand, when researching her new book. Many of these people will move to larger cities, particularly in the global south, which may themselves become uninhabitable in the coming decades.

So what’s the scale of this issue of climate migration? What might the world look like with a three to four-degree rise in global temperatures, Laurie asked. We’re currently sitting at a temperature increase of around 1.3 degrees and we’re already seeing dramatic changes in our weather patterns, Gaia explained. It's likely we will exceed 1.5 degrees within six to seven years and reach three degrees by the end of the century. Put more simply, currently only 1.1% of the earth’s surface is unlivable due to extreme hot temperatures. If this rate continues, 20% will be unlivable by 2070, and that 20% is home to one-third of the world’s population. Even if we manage to mitigate temperature rises to three degrees, we will likely be seeing the movement of around three billion people by 2070, and climate migration will become a huge geopolitical and social issue.

We need to reframe our perspective, Gaia explains. So many of the global crises we face this century are deeply complex issues, enmeshed in human society and earth systems and we need more visionary leadership that can focus on the future rather than dealing with the immediate, she continued. So many of the positive things we can enjoy in modern life — democracies, education and arts — didn’t come about by chance, she points out. They were a vision of an improved future.

Nomad Century calls for greater action towards surviving climate change, and Gaia highlights the need for leaders with a clear vision and the courage to guide policies on this new trajectory.

The opinions expressed in this event recording are those of the speaker. For more information, view our full statement on external contributors.


Gaia_213 1 credit Phil Fisk

Gaia Vince


Gaia Vince is a journalist, writer and broadcaster and an honorary senior research fellow at UCL. She writes for publications including The Observer and The Guardian and presents science programmes on BBC R4. She is the author of the groundbreaking work Adventures In The Anthropocene for which she spent 2.5 years travelling to over 50 countries to map the ways humans are changing the planet. She draws on her experiences of the state of the planet in her new book Nomad Century.


Laurie Smith


Laurie leads on strategic foresight for Nesta. He oversees much of the organisation's research into emerging trends, novel technologies and promising interventions. Prior to joining Nesta he worked at the Royal Society, the UK's national academy of science, where he most recently led on emerging technologies and futures. Previously he worked at the Academy of Medical Sciences on policy around medical science, public health and international health.