Mediating the Worst Impacts of Climate Change on Migration Requires Decisive Action
WASHINGTON — While it is widely acknowledged that climate change can have direct and indirect impacts on human mobility, estimates of these flows are far harder to predict. This is especially true when predicting future trends, as economic, demographic and environmental drivers of migration will depend heavily on actions that are taken now and over the next few decades.
In a new report for the Migration Policy Institute’s Transatlantic Council on Migration, Robert McLeman of Canada’s Wilfrid Laurier University maps out potential migration outcomes for the 2020-2050 and 2050-2100 periods based on how different standardized scenarios for greenhouse gas emissions, socioeconomic development and future migration policy intersect. The report, How Will International Migration Policy and Sustainable Development Affect Future Climate-Related Migration?, is a first-of-its-kind systematic exercise to explore not only how future climate conditions might shape migration flows, but also how development and migration policies could mediate or exacerbate these impacts.
The relationship between climate change and migration is multidirectional, oftentimes indirect and shaped by individual and household characteristics, exposure to environmental hazards, access to social networks and humanitarian relief, and other factors. Nonetheless, as both extreme-weather events and slow-onset pressures become more frequent, climate change is expected to contribute to heightened vulnerability in regions across the world, particularly Asia, sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America.
While McLeman contends major changes to the frequency or intensity of most climactic drivers of migration are not expected before 2050, he makes the case that the likelihood of certain outcomes over others depends on the rapid and coordinated implementation of sustainable environmental, economic and migration policies. The report proposes that if decisive action is taken by 2050 to substantially reduce greenhouse gas emissions and make progress towards achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals and implementing the Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, high rates of involuntary migration can be prevented. Under this scenario, migration can take place under conditions of high agency, bringing benefits to migrants, receiving communities and households in the origin country.
Conversely, in a trajectory of rising rates of greenhouse gas emissions, uneven socioeconomic development and securitized and restrictive migration policies, low-income countries will have a limited adaptive capacity to address environmental hazards, and displacement will likely become more widespread.
“Migration and adaptive capacity are inherently linked. The dysfunctionality of treating migration and climate change as separate policy-making silos will become increasingly obvious as the impacts of climate change intensify,” McLeman writes. “The current international status quo with respect to migration cannot be expected to reduce maladaptive climate-related migration and displacement in the future.”
This report is part of the Transatlantic Council’s series entitled “Coming Together or Coming Apart? A New Phase of International Cooperation on Migration.”
Read the report here: www.migrationpolicy.org/research/international-migration-policy-development-climate.
And for more on climate change and migration, please check out a special series in MPI’s online journal, the Migration Information Source, as well as a new podcast, Changing Climate, Changing Migration.
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The Migration Policy Institute (MPI) is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank in Washington, DC dedicated to analysis of the movement of people worldwide. MPI provides analysis, development and evaluation of migration and refugee policies at local, national and international levels. MPI’s Transatlantic Council on Migration is a unique deliberative body that examines vital policy issues and informs migration policymaking processes across the Atlantic community.