Migration in the age of climate change

05/20/2016 - Migration is currently a no 1 issue in Germany as well as Europe – but what will future migration look like globally, in the age of climate risks? Where is environmental migration happening already today, and what can we learn from it? The Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) teamed up with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) - the biggest intergovernmental institution in the field - for a media briefing in Berlin. Migration is mostly driven by a multitude of factors – be it political, social, demographic, economic, or by security concerns - and almost never by a single cause. At the same time, global environmental change, and specifically climate change caused by greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels, is an additional and potentially severe risk factor.
Migration in the age of climate change
Discussing environmental migration: Mariam Traore Chazalnoel of IOM and Hermann Lotze-Campen of PIK. Photo: PIK

"Environmental factors play a much bigger role for migration than the current debate on migration causes might suggest," Mariam Traore Chazalnoel from the IOM headquarters in Geneva told the journalists. The forthcoming Atlas of Environmental Migration created by IOM shows how both slow and sudden-onset processes and events already play a significant role in people’s migration decisions across the world. "In 2015, the figure of people displaced due to disasters is more than twice the number who fled conflict and violence in the same period," says Chazalnoel. This gives an idea of the relevance of environmental migration. Of course, most of the natural disasters are not related to climate change so far, since its impacts only begin to be felt.

Science shows that climate risks are clearly on the rise. "Prolonged heat waves and extreme precipitation events are already becoming more frequent, and will continue to do so under unabated global warming. Extraordinarily strong hurricanes are also likely to become more frequent in the future," says Jacob Schewe of PIK's Impact Modelling Intercomparison Project, coordinating more than 50 modelling groups worldwide. This helps to identify hotspot regions where several different climate change impacts are projected to overlap by the end of this century, if greenhouse gas emissions continue unabated. Southern Asia is one example for this.

Food production can be affected. "Climate change impacts hit those hardest who contributed least to global greenhouse gas emissions, profited least from the exploitation of fossil fuels, and have few resources for adaptation: poor populations in poor countries, mostly in the tropics," says Hermann Lotze-Campen, head of PIK's Research Domain Climate Impacts and Vulnerabilities. "Unabated climate change would likely increase the risk of hunger in some world regions through rising food costs already by 2030. By 2080, negative impacts on crop yields may lead to increasing average costs of food between 50 and 130 percent. For poor people, who spend a high income share on food, this can be devastating." Migration in some cases may be an important adaptation strategy.

"In many areas around the world, communities are already had to be relocated as a last resort due to environmental changes such as coastal erosion, river bed erosion, salinization, rising sea level or impending disasters, which are expected to be exacerbated by climate change in the future," says Susanne Melde of IOM's Global Migration Data Analysis Centre (GMDAC), located in Berlin. "For example, tens of thousands of people in Haiti and Viet Nam, hundreds of thousands in Ethiopia, a million in the Philippines, and millions in China are affected by such relocations."

To further explore the complex climate and migration nexus, PIK and IOM are considering further cooperation.


Migration and Climate Change Media Brief: PDF

Migration and Climate Change: Video statement

IOM GMDAC on migration data: PDF

Weblink to IOM: https://www.iom.int/migration-and-climate-change

Weblink to PIK research on food and poverty risks: https://www.pik-potsdam.de/news/in-short/climate-change-may-affect-global-food-costs-and-vulnerability-to-hunger