Issue 7, January 2009
|Migration and Climate Change|
As part of the larger global concern over climate change, experts are beginning to explicitly study the impact of migration on the environment and the environment’s influence on migration.
Many of the pushes and pulls that motivate human mobility are related to natural resource scarcity and abundance. People often leave their home to seek a better distribution of resources or to flee conflict over resources. This includes people leaving drought or flood-prone areas, poor farmland, land conflicts and natural disasters; it includes people seeking better availability of food, water and quality land.
Climate change refugees or environmental refugees are new designations ascribed to many migrants. Environmental IDPs are internally displaced, such as victims of recent Pakistani and Chinese earthquakes. By some estimates, the number of people displaced by natural disasters is twice that of those forced to flee conflict, at nearly 200 million per year. The United Nations estimates that 100 million of the world’s most vulnerable people live below sea level or in places subject to tidal surges and flooding thought to accompany global warming. The Asian Tsunami and Hurricane Katrina put some of these localities on the world stage.
The UN projects that 150 million people will lose their homes and become climate-related refugees or IDPs by the year 2050. Of these, island communities in the Bahamas, Tonga and the Maldives are at the greatest risk. Some experts believe this is a conservative estimate and doesn’t include other victims of climate change, such as those displaced by desertification (see the Sudan issue of the World Savvy Monitor) or pollution/degradation of water sources (see the China issue of the World Savvy Monitor).
The Impact of Human Movement on the Environment
Just as climate change poses a danger for humans, many believe migration poses a danger to the environment through settlement patterns. Deforestation in the Amazon Rain Forest, coastal depletion, soil degradation, overfishing and increased pollution and carbon emissions associated with urbanization are examples of this threat. As humans migrate and concentrate, the environment absorbs much of the stress; many believe this mobility may be causing irreversible damage to the Earth’s surface and atmosphere. On the other hand, human migration, when it relieves population pressures on fragile land, may be seen as a climate change mitigant. Some believe that water will soon become a critical issue as human activity disrupts both rainfall patterns and river flows and quality. See the Population Reference Bureau and the Wilson Center for Environmental Change and Society for more information.