(CN) – Even as the European Union grapples with asylum seekers coming to its borders from several war-torn regions of the world, a new study suggests global warming could nearly triple the number of refugees applying to enter the EU by the end of the century.
The report, published Thursday in the journal Science, examines how different climate change scenarios would affect the flow of refugees from war-torn nations like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria into the EU.
By the end of the century, EU asylum applications could increase by 28 percent under a slow-warming scenario where future greenhouse gas emissions decrease. However, if future emissions levels continue to climb, the flow of refugees could increase by 188 percent, according to the study.
“Previous studies have found a relationship between weather variations and migration, but ours is the first to focus on distress-driven migration (as measured by asylum applications) on a global scale,” the report says.
The authors analyzed EU asylum applications from residents of 103 nations between 2000 and 2014 – roughly 351,000 a year – and compared these figures with environmental data across those countries over the same period.
The relationship between variations in asylum applications and weather anomalies affects nations with baseline temperatures of about 68 degrees Fahrenheit. The trend is more pronounced among countries with higher average temperatures.
Cooler nations tend to produce fewer refugees as the climate warms, according to the study.
“Two centuries ago, the ‘year without a summer’ (1816), following the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia, saw massive crop failures throughout the Northern Hemisphere, caused by the aerosol-obscured atmosphere and unseasonal climate,” the authors write. “It triggered sizeable migrations as peasants deserted their fruitless farms.
The study offers evidence that what happened in 1816 is already taking place today, where weather shocks on agricultural regions across the globe influence migration – with Europe being the destination of choice.
Using climate projections, the authors estimate that a global temperature increase of 4.7 to 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit may lead to some 660,000 additional EU asylum applications each year by the end of the century.
Weather variations can affect agriculture and GDP – even in industrialized and developed nations that do not have large agricultural sectors – which could explain the trends found in the study, according to the authors.
“Our findings support the assessment that climate change, especially continued warming, will add another “threat multiplier” that induces people to seek refuge abroad,” the study says.
“Weather impacts in low-income source countries will not be confined to those countries or regions but will instead likely spill over into developed countries through increased refugee flows.”