“The breakdown of ecosystem-dependent livelihoods is likely to remain the premier driver of long-term migration during the next two to three decades,” says In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement
, a report launched at the recent international climate negotiations in Bonn.
According to the report, climate change will threaten livelihoods (and could consequently drive migration) through its impact on agriculture, glacial melt, sea-level rise, and the severity and frequency of natural disasters. While the report recognizes that migration is a complex issue involving a “combination of environmental, economic, social and/or political factors,” it stresses the impact of environmental change on “livelihoods which are dependent on ecosystem services, such as agriculture, herding, and fishing.”
Key to the report’s findings is the disproportionate effect that climate change will continue to have on developing countries, which are ill-equipped to adapt to climate change, and where many people’s livelihoods depend directly on ecosystem services. The report calls for the reduction of carbon emissions to mitigate climate change; the promotion of technologies that will enable adaptation; and the active participation of women and other marginalized groups in adaptation planning.
In a recent invitation-only meeting hosted by the Wilson Center’s Environmental Change and Security Program, Jon Barnett of the University of Melbourne suggested that migration that is partially due to climate might be an opportunity, as “you could use migration to facilitate adaptation.” In Search of Shelter also recognizes this potential opportunity, and suggests that development strategies be formulated accordingly. Better infrastructure, health care, and education in likely receiving cities—many of which are in the developing world and are already overwhelmed by burgeoning slum populations—would significantly reduce the pressure of migration on both migrants and receiving populations.
In Search of Shelter is a unique contribution to the field, examining climate change’s impact on migration in a careful, evidence-based manner. Yet it strikes a common chord with general reports on development by stressing the important role that access to health care, education, and infrastructure play in supporting healthy, secure populations. It may be up for debate how large of a role climate change will play in prompting migration, but it is clear that we need to integrate this issue into broader development, health, and governance strategies.
Image: Cover of In search of shelter: mapping the effects of climate change on human migration and displacement. © 2008 by CARE International. Used by permission.