“Experts say a third of Bangladesh’s coastline could be flooded if the sea rises one metre in the next 50 years, creating an additional 20 million Bangladeshis displaced
from their homes and farms,” says a recent article from Reuters, echoing a refrain about the links between climate change, migration, and instability that has become common in news stories and think tank reports over the past several months.
Yet not everyone agrees that climate change will lead to massive, destabilizing human migrations. “Contrary to conjecture from security researchers, we find little evidence that migration will exacerbate already volatile situations in the developing world,” write Clionadh Raleigh and Lisa Jordan in “Assessing the Impact of Climate Change on Migration and Conflict,” a paper prepared for the March 2008 World Bank “Social Dimensions of Climate Change” workshop. “As the people most affected by climate change are typically the poorest and least powerful within a country, they are less capable of waging significant conflicts to redress grievances against neighbors or governments.” In addition, they maintain, environmental migration tends to be short-term and internal, further lessening the likelihood that it will lead to conflict.
Although environmental degradation can increase people’s vulnerability to floods and landslides, so can “unequal patterns of asset ownership and income, rural land tenure systems, population growth in marginal areas, and governments’ land access policies,” say Raleigh and Jordan, and it is important that climate change not make natural disaster risk analysis one-dimensional. The authors agree that Bangladesh will be highly vulnerable to floods and wind storms in the future, but argue that this does not necessarily make them potential “climate migrants,” as even people who are very vulnerable to climactic changes can—and do—develop resilience strategies for dealing with gradual and extreme changes.