Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict

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Climate change
The growing evidence of links between climate change, migration, and conflict raise plenty of reasons for concern. Photo courtesy AP/Topphoto, via Center for American Progress.

Our recent Terrain.org theme of Migration prompted an exchange between our editors and the Center for American Progress about the recent report, “Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict: Addressing Complex Crisis Scenarios in the 21st Century”, by Michael Werz. As the report’s summary states:

It is difficult to fully understand the detailed causes of migration and economic and political instability, but the growing evidence of links between climate change, migration, and conflict raise plenty of reasons for concern. This is why it’s time to start thinking about new and comprehensive answers to multifaceted crisis scenarios brought on or worsened by global climate change.

The report tackles a complex and tangled set of issues, not just migration, but its discussion of this topic is well-developed. As the authors acknowledge, experts are far from agreement about the cause or official statistics on climate-change inspired migration, but “[a] 2009 report by the International Organization for Migration produced in cooperation with the United Nations University and the Climate Change, Environment and Migration Alliance cites numbers that range from ‘200 million to 1 billion migrants from climate change alone, by 2050,’ arguing that ‘environmental drivers of migration are often coupled with economic, social and developmental factors that can accelerate and to a certain extent mask the impact of climate change.’” In short, the pressures of climate change, socioeconomic challenges, and political conflicts are too interrelated to credit any single factor alone for a wave of migration.

For those interested in learning more, the summary available here summarizes the CAP’s arguments and conclusions and offers links to the full report, which

provides the foundation and overview for a series of papers focusing on the particular challenges posed by the cumulative effects of climate change, migration, and conflict in some of our world’s most complex environments. In the papers following this report, we plan to outline the effects of this nexus in northwest Africa, in India and Bangladesh, in the Andean region of South America, and in China. In this paper we detail that nexus across our planet and offer wideranging recommendations about how the United States, its allies in the global community, and the community at large can deal with the coming climate-driven crises with comprehensive sustainable security solutions encompassing national security, diplomacy, and economic, social, and environmental development.

  1. Hello and thank you for this article. So-called environmentally induced migration is multi-level problem. According to Essam El-Hinnawi definition form 1985 environmental refugees as those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural or triggered by people) that jeopardised their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life. The fundamental distinction between `environmental migrants` and `environmental refugees` is a standpoint of contemporsry studies in EDPs.

    According to Bogumil Terminski it seems reasonable to distinguish the general category of environmental migrants from the more specific (subordinate to it) category of environmental refugees.

    Environmental migrants, therefore, are persons making a short-lived, cyclical, or longerterm change of residence, of a voluntary or forced character, due to specific environmental factors. Environmental refugees form a specific type of environmental migrant.

    Environmental refugees, therefore, are persons compelled to spontaneous, short-lived, cyclical, or longer-term changes of residence due to sudden or gradually worsening changes in environmental factors important to their living, which may be of either a short-term or an irreversible character.

    According to Norman Myers environmental refugees are “people who can no longer gain a secure livelihood in their homelands because of drought, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and other environmental problems, together with associated problems of population pressures and profound poverty”.

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