Assessing the evidence on migration and the environment - New report reveals major shortcomings on the issue
Although data on the issue is highly unreliable, Migration, Environment and Climate Change: Assessing the Evidence, finds that large-scale human movement from climate change and environmental degradation is not only inevitable but is already happening. However, much of it is internal or cross-border migration, belying some fears that millions of poor people will go to rich countries as a result of climate change.
Finding that the number of people affected by natural disasters has more than doubled in recent years, the report highlights that there has been no corresponding major increase in international migration from disaster-affected regions in that time frame.
Instead, the report, produced with support from the Rockefeller Foundation, argues that current research shows that most migration already occurring in response to both sudden and slow-onset natural disasters such as drought is mainly internal. Movements are from rural to rural areas or from rural to urban areas while international migration is mainly cross-border movement as long-distance international migration would require planning and resources that those who have lost homes and livelihoods are less likely to have.
Some National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPAs) produced by least developed countries to adapt to climate change cite existing examples of mainly internal migration as a consequence of climate change or environmental factors. Mali, for example, refers to migration from north to south and towards coastal countries in the west of Africa as a spontaneous adaptation strategy to drought but acknowledges that this internal migration was placing stress on an already fragile eco-system.
Also highlighted is the often less reported though much more significant impact of slow-onset natural disasters as opposed to extreme climatic events such as storms and floods. Between 1979 and 2008, 718 million people were affected by storms compared to 1.6 billion people affected by droughts.
Some countries, however, see internal resettlement to safer areas as the only adaptation strategy to climate change including Sao Tome and Principe, Samoa, the Soloman Islands and the Maldives.
The report argues that in general, countries expect to manage environmental migration internally, with the exception of small island states threatened by rising sea levels that in some cases have already led to islands disappearing under water, forcing international migration.
However, the potential scale of future movements will necessitate international support for those countries most affected by internal and immediate cross-border environmental migration as low and least-developed countries will not have the capacity or resources to manage or respond to such flows.
The report also underlines the worrying lack of policies in destination countries in the developed world to address environmental migration. While acknowledging that the impact of climate change on migration is predominantly internal movement, international migration is nevertheless likely to be increasingly important in the future and will necessitate policy and programme responses that are currently lacking.
Potential future hotspots for international migration are also identified. These are countries which have high emigration rates, face enormous socio-economic challenges and which experience significant slow-onset climate-related disasters that impact on issues such as food security. They include Afghanistan, Bangladesh, most of Central America, several West African and South East Asian countries, amongst others.
However, a persistent lack of data on migration and climate change/environmental degradation is a major obstacle to having a clearer picture on the issue and to plan ahead. If anything, the hugely wide-ranging guesstimates that exist on numbers of environmental migrants (between 25 million and one billion people by 2050) only underline the dearth of serious data research on the issue.
The report also argues the need for more a more balanced approach to understanding the link between migration and climate change, a complex subject often viewed through the prism of forced displacement from extreme climatic events and which overlooks the more "solution" role migration can play in adapting to a new climate reality.
The report, the only publication bringing together all strands of existing research on migration and the environment, can be found at: http://publications.iom.int/bookstore/free/migration_and_environment.pdf
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