Climate Migration primarily in middle income, agri-dependent countries: Study

Study can go long way in pinpointing future hot spots for climate-induced migration

By Akshit Sangomla
Published: Monday 14 September 2020

Human migration due to changing climate happens primarily in middle income and agricultural-dependent countries, a new study published in the journal Nature Climate Change on September 14, 2020, has said.

The impacts of climate change that caused migration of people were mainly changes in temperature, rainfall variability and rapid onset events like storms, cyclones and floods, the study added.

The research paper was published by a group of scientists from the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) in Germany, International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) in Austria, the Vienna Institute of Demography of the Austrian Academy of Sciences in Austria and the Vienna University of Economics and Business in Austria.

“Environmental factors can drive migration, but the size of the effects depends on the particular economic and sociopolitical conditions in the countries,” Roman Hoffmann, lead author of the study and a scientist at PIK and the Vienna Institute of Demography of the Austrian Academy of Sciences, said. 

“In both, low and high income countries, environmental impacts on migration are weaker — presumably because people are either too poor to leave and therefore essentially become trapped, or in wealthy countries, they have enough financial means to absorb the consequences. It is mainly in middle-income regions and those with a dependency on agriculture that we see strong effects,” he added.

The research analysed 30 studies on the subject of migration and climate change from different countries. It found that the strongest relationship between migration and climate-related environmental hazards was found in countries from Latin America, the Carribean, sub Saharan Africa, west, south and south east Asia.

Research has also shown that these populations are also most at risk from climate change disasters such tropical cyclones, hurricanes, typhoons, extreme rainfall and floods.

For instance, the last two years saw a significant rise in number, intensity and unpredictability of cyclones in the North Indian Ocean region, the most severe among these being super Cyclone Amphan in the Bay of Bengal in May 2020 and extremely severe Cyclone Fani in the Bay of Bengal in May 2019. Both these massive storms caused massive destruction of property, livelihoods and lives on the eastern coast of India and in Bangladesh.

“Recent mass migration episodes such as the Syrian refugee crisis in 2015 and the ‘migrant caravan’ from Central America to the United States in 2018 have been partly attributed to severe droughts experienced in these countries,” the paper said.

Scientists also found through the study that migration was dependent on the type of climate change impact and that different impacts could re-enforce each other.

“While changing temperatures in a region are found to have the strongest impact on migration, rapid-onset disasters and rainfall variability and anomalies can also play a role,” says Raya Muttarak, co author of the study and deputy IIASA World Population Programme director.

“Especially, smallholder farmers rely on steady climatic conditions and suffer from changes and shocks as they have insufficient capacities to adapt,” she added.

What one needs to keep in mind is that the narrative of climate refugees is not a simple movement of people from low income countries towards high income countries like the United States but a complex process that involves many economic and socio-political factors. The study, in fact, found compelling evidence for internal migration within countries that was sometimes even temporary.

As climate change impacts become more and more common globally, the triggers for human populations to move away from the most affected regions will also increase. Studies like the current one will go a long way in understanding and pin pointing the future hot spots for such migration.

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