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January 24, 2019

How does climate change contribute to global migration?

How does climate change contribute to global migration?

New research published by Global Environmental Change scientifically validates the causal relationship between climate change and increasing global migration.

Linguère Mously Mbaye argues that: “Climate change and natural disasters cause people to migrate if they do not have alternative mitigation strategies, are forced to move because of the shock, and can afford migration costs.”

Indeed, the research conducted by the International Institute for Applied Systems emphasizes that severe climate conditions lead to increased migration in certain contexts and time periods, by causing conflict. As temperatures rise, rainfall drops, and extreme climate conditions can create conflict over scarce resources.

For example, countries in Western Asia between 2010 and 2012, when the so-called “Arab Spring” political uprisings occurred in Tunisia, Libya, Yemen, and Syria, long-lasting droughts and shortages of water led to crop failures. Consequently, outflows of asylum seekers from these regions increased and saw many Mediterranean countries in Europe inundated with refugees.

Researcher Raya Muttarak says: “This research [touches] upon the topic widely covered in the media. We contribute to the debate on climate-induced migration by providing new scientific evidence.” Indeed, the policy implications of mass-scale migration of refugees are widely debated among economists.

Jesus Fernandez-Huertas Moraga writes: “Most of the refugees from [the Syrian war] were in neighboring Turkey, Jordan, and Lebanon, but an influx of asylum seekers in the summer of 2015 into Greece, Italy, and Hungary put the whole Common European Asylum System into question, with countries such as Hungary deciding to erect new border walls to prevent refugees from entering their territory.”

To address these concerns, Mbaye writes that, “the issue of climate change requires better governance on a global scale, with more efficient aid allocated to vulnerable countries as well as better migration policies toward migrants from those countries.”

She emphasizes that climate change migrants should not be seen as a threat to host countries, for three reasons: “First, most migrants move internally or to neighboring countries. Second, due to the prospect of remittances, migrants can help those left behind to deal with shocks. Finally, migration remains a human right, above all in the case of disasters related to the climate. Migrants should thus be received and integrated into host societies, for the benefit of all.”

Additionally, Pieter Bevelander argues that policies should aim to reduce the long-term gap in integrating refugees into labor markets because, “host countries are missing out on the potential economic gains offered by refugee immigration.” The relationship between migration and climate change is far from straightforward, but with further research like this migration flows can be better understood.

Read more about environmental regulation, and migration policy.