“In a 50-year time span, climate change, in particular, is likely to have a quite a strong impact on the drivers of migration,” said Richard Black, professor of human geography at University of Sussex and lead author of Migration and Global Environmental Change: Future Challenges and Opportunities
. “But in a way that is different to what has been understood until now.”
The report, produced by the UK Government Office for Science’s Foresight Programme, makes some important distinctions, however. First, Black said, we must understand that “migration is already occurring in the world, and whilst many people are likely to leave areas that are of environmental risks, many millions of people are currently moving towards areas of environmental risk,” particularly in Asia but also in Africa where many urban centers are in low-elevation coastal zones.
Second, “many millions of people do not migrate…and indeed are sometimes unable to do so,” Black pointed out. “One of the consequences of climate change is that it will be likely that poorer people in many parts of the world will be even less able to move.” These “trapped” populations are often located in dryland areas which “dominate many of the world’s poorest countries, including Africa and Central Asia,” the report reads.
What does this mean for policymakers? According to Black, there are two key implications of the report:
As rural-urban migration ramps up in the coming years, policymakers will need to bolster expanding urban centers. “By promoting these linkages between rural and urban areas, we can help build adaptation both in the cities and back in the countryside,” Black concluded.
- Given there continues to be movement of people to areas of environmental risk, the policy community, particularly the international development community, should begin to focus more on large urban cities. “Cities in poor countries are already failing their citizens in the provision of water and adequate shelter,” he said, and migration will only intensify these problems.
- “Not only is it difficult to stop migration, but [it] is actually part of the solution,” said Black. In fact, as noted by others, migration may be a useful adaptation mechanism for climate change.