New findings show that global migration patterns are increasingly being driven by climate change, posing challenges for policy makersby Dennis Wesselbaum / January 30, 2018 / Leave a comment
According to the Copernicus Climate Change Service, last year was the second hottest year on record.
Every region of the world experienced weather-related disasters: there were storms in Europe and North America, floods in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, droughts at the Horn of Africa and Brazil, and heat waves in India and Australia.
There is extensive research presenting overwhelming evidence that climate change alters weather patterns.
As well as more disasters, we are also seeing an increase in their likelihood, frequency, and severity. Since the 1980’s, average temperature anomalies have been steadily increasing and weather-related disaster increased threefold to about 300 per year, worldwide.
We are getting used to those news headlines about the consequences of climate change.
However, while those changes to natural systems are already having an effect—and are likely to be even more severe in the future—climate change as a potential driving force of migration has been ignored for a long time.
Research usually explains movements of people by focusing on economic differences, for example in income, and the cost of migration. Only recently have researchers started to include climatic factors in the migration decision, and found mixed results.
In a new research project, myself and Amelia Aburn, a Masters student at Victoria University of Wellington, show that climate change generates sizable, negative effects that cause migration.
While income at the destination country and the cost of migration have the largest effect on migration flows, climate change—temperature and weather-related disasters—is actually a more important driver than income and political freedom in the origin country.
Using data on migration flows between 16 OECD destinations and 198 origin countries over 35 years, we offer a joint analysis of various driving forces of migration, capturing long-term effects and year-to-year variations.
So why does climate change lead to migration?
Intuitively, people are moving away from the various negative effects of climate change. Those effects include reduced agricultural productivity and lower crop yields, and, hence, higher agricultural income risk. Also, it will likely lead to water scarcity, increased food insecurity, and larger health risks, especially in the context of a growing population.
Climate change, being a threat multiplier, has particularly strong effects in countries that have pre-existing vulnerabilities and few strong recovery mechanisms, such as insurance, mobility, and social protection.
However, its effects are not only limited to less developed countries, but also adversely affect economic growth in advanced economies.
Migration therefore needs to be understood as an adaptation strategy.
These new findings show that global migration patterns are increasingly being driven by climate change, posing challenges for policy makers.
It is clear that this climate migration is a global issue that needs cross-country discussion. Both developed and affected countries need to develop and implement policies to prepare for what is a growing trend of people wanting to move because of climate change. The findings call for flexible immigration policies to ensure a swift response to catastrophic events.
In the long-run, structural adaptation mechanisms, as proposed by the IPCC, should be implemented.
Moreover, the idea of including climate change as an official reason to grant refugee rights should be discussed and explored.
Climate refugees have yet to be recognised officially by international law and should be included in the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol. This will be a difficult undertaking as not every disaster is caused by climate change.
However, given the predicted rise in global temperatures and weather-related disasters caused by climate change, we will see people moving because of climate change rather sooner than later.
We, as developed countries, have a responsibility to provide protection and assistance to those people and countries affected.
In the words of HRH The Prince of Wales: “I fervently believe that the appalling threat human-induced climate change poses to mankind’s future cannot—and should not—be underestimated.”