Warming Up to Migration: Labor Mobility and Climate ChangeAugust 1, 2007 By Karima Tawfik
Traveling across national borders to find work should be treated as a legitimate response to climate change, says the International Institute for Sustainable Development’s Oli Brown in a new policy paper on climate change and labor mobility.Both Brown and ECSP Director Geoff Dabelko, who recently weighed in on climate change and migration on The New Security Beat, believe that climate change is an increasingly important driver of migration. However, it is difficult to isolate a causal relationship between climate change and migration because other factors—such as population growth, economics, and politics—are inextricably intertwined with climate’s impact on migration patterns. Brown and Dabelko both stress that the difficulties of measuring climate change’s effect on migration should not prevent policymakers from addressing the relationship between the two, however.
Brown explains that labor migration has become an important coping strategy in drought-stricken Africa. During dry periods, young adults leave their rural homes and head for the cities, hoping to earn money for their families. Brown recommends increasing the flexibility of international migration laws to make it easier for people to travel across national borders to earn a living, but he also urges developing nations to curb the “brain drain” phenomenon by adopting incentives for workers to remain in their home countries. Moreover, he argues that wealthy developed countries, which tend to see migration as a failure of adaptation and often oppose relaxing immigration or refugee policies, should accept environmental stress as a legitimate reason for migration.