How is environmental change affecting migration and how can policymakers address this emerging challenge? The book assesses the existing body of evidence relating to the likely impact of environmental and climate change on migration. It recommends that the focus of research and funding shift toward developing countries where migration, both internal and international, is most likely to occur. It also advocates for better data collection through collaboration of experts from the migration, environment, development and humanitarian fields.
Over the last few years there has been an upsurge of interest in the likely impact of climate change on population movements. Estimates have suggested that between 25 million to one billion people could be displaced by climate change over the next 40 years. While debates persist as to the nature of climate change, there is now little doubt that parts of the earth are becoming less habitable due to factors such as deterioration of agricultural lands, desertification, and water pollution. Further climate change, with global temperatures expected to rise between two and five degrees centigrade by the end of this century, could have a major impact on the movement of people.
Developing an agenda for research which will help the international community to understand this emerging challenge is going to be extremely complex. A comprehensive review of the existing evidence base reveals that:
- Drawing a clear line between voluntary and forced movements is not always straightforward. In emergencies, such as natural disasters, the impetus for migration may be obvious. In other situations where environmental change is gradual, movement is more likely to be linked to other economic, social and political factors.
- A persistent lack of data is one of the primary challenges to measuring the migration and environment nexus. Data collection on migration and the environment represents a challenge in itself. A range of methodologies exist which can be used and enhanced for research purposes.
- More efforts are needed to identify, test and implement new programmes, policies and frameworks to manage future movements of people linked to environmental and climate change. In addition, the capacities of governments to implement new and existing policies and programmes need to be enhanced.
There is a tendency at present to frame the policy challenges in fairly negative terms with media headlines often suggesting that millions of people will be uprooted and forced to seek protection in Europe and North America. There is also a tendency to focus on the inadequacy of policies and legal frameworks to assist those displaced due to extreme environmental events. There is much less discussion of how migration could help some countries adapt to climate change. Recommendations for future research and policy include:
- A shift in the migration research agenda towards a stronger focus on internal migration, and more emphasis on understanding South-South migration – in order to better understand the likely impact of climate change.
- Better data on environmental migration through the establishment of a special commission consisting of data experts from the migration, environment, development and humanitarian fields. The commission should develop new ways of using existing data sources and develop new indicators of environmental migration.
- New funded programmes in the South for research on migration, environment and climate change, including a research capacity-building component. These would enable developing countries to build up their own knowledge and to invest in new data collection systems.