Climate migration

"Climate migration"  Definition  (for source, see below, bottom):

movement from habitual places of residence due largely to alterations in the environment significantly related to climate change



This definition seeks to avoid classifying people according to personal motives for relocation ("environmental migrant," "climate refugee," etc.). It instead orients towards identifying migration movements where alterations and disruptions to

the natural environment (coastal flooding, risk of severe weather, ecological degradation, habitat loss, disease, etc.), directly influenced in a significant way by climate change, are prompting more migration than would otherwise occur. In determining whether a discrete movement of migrants might be labelled "climate migration," the quantitative mix of "economic migrants," victims of sudden natural disaster, refuge-seekers from deteriorating environmental living conditions, etc. (to the extent to which that mix might be objectively gauged) is secondary to the general characteristics of the temporal and geographic relocation.



Longer term forms of climate migration (defined more broadly)

Because climate change is a long term phenomenon, it can also have, and may be expected to increasingly have, important secondary impacts on global migration patterns, e.g. those related to the "North-South" economic divide.



Predicted in 2012

Excerpt from The Business of Transatlantic Migration (2012) Epilogue (p. 267)


“Growing inequality is analogous to global warming. Its effects are diffuse and long-term, and there is always something more pressing to deal with.” *

One of those long-term effects could quite possibly be increased attempts at migration.

If, as seems probable, global warming has more serious negative impacts upon poorer countries, the future role of planetary climate change on global migration might be mainly indirect, through exacerbation of global inequality, even though the proximate causes of future mass migrations will likely be neither inequality or climate per se.

 * Robert Wade, Economist, April 28, 2001, pp. 72-74.



News reports, scholary analyses   (from 2010 on)


Uncertain politics of climate-related mass migration

(Oufemi Taiwo quoted in "Beyond Catastrophe: A new climate reality" by David Wallace-Wells, NY Times 26Oct 2022)

The numbers I’ve seen for displacement — both internal displacement and cross-border displacement at two degrees — are at least in the tens if not the hundreds of millions. And I don’t think we have a political context for what that means.”


Limited legal protection for climate refugees (Inside Climate News, Nov, 2021)


Migration will soon be the biggest climate challenge (Fin Times, 3 Oct 21)

Speaking of human geography rather than migration can be a powerful rhetorical tool, for it emphasises that we are all in the same boat and gently shifts the focuse from narrow national sovereignty to expansive planetary stewardship...Habitable geography is our most precious terrestrial resource, and we must optimise it for those who come after us.


Ebb and Flow (Water, Migration and Development) (World Bank, Aug. 2021)

10% of the rise in global migration is associated with water deficits.

Global warming will make day zero events (when taps run dry) more common.

Mideastern and North African conflicts worsen and are worsened by water shortages.


The Great Climate Migration (NY Times, July 2020: may require subscription)


Groundswell: internal climate migration (World Bank, March 2018)

"The poorest people will be forced to move due to slow-onset climate change impacts"


Olper A., C. Falco and M. Galeottei, "Climate Change, Agriculture and Migration"

IAAE working paper (2018):  "Negative shocks to agricultural productivity caused by weather fluctuations significantly increase migration in middle and lower income countries but not in the poorest and in the rich countries."


"Move species to protect them from climate change"  Economist (8 April, 2017)


Beine, Michel and Christopher Parsons, "Climatic Factors as Determinants of  International Migration: Redux." CEPR working paper (2016).


Resettling the first American 'climate refugees'  (NY Times, 3 May 2016)

(from the slowly disappearing Isle de Jean Charles, off the Louisiana coast

Climate refugees are the others (Tages-Anzeiger, 30 Apr 2016, in German)

The gathering storm of climate migration (Devex, 25 March 2016)


Beine, Michel and Christopher Parsons, "Climatic Factors as Determinants of  International Migration: Redux." CEPR working paper (2016).


Cattaneo, Christina and Giovanni Peri,

"Migration's response to increasing temperatures." VoxEu (2015).


What to do about climate migration  (Jane McAdam, Interpreter, July 2013)

Climate change alone does not cause people to move...Climate change exacerbates pre-existing pressures; people who are already vulnerable become more so....People at risk of displacement from climate change and natural disasters do not want to be seen as refugees....Policymakers need to appreciate that migration is one form of adaptation to climate change and, in consultation with affected communities, devise thoughtful strategies to facilitate this.


Climate refugees (trailer for 2010 film)




See also: 

    Contemporary migration process

    Contemporary refugee movements

    Europe's refugee crisis



The definition of "climate migration" used here (see top of page) is adapted from:

The Migration Newsdesk, International Organization for Migration (IOM), 25-Apr-16  [accessed 13-May-16]

"Here is IOM's working definition of climate migration: the movement, within a state or across an international border, of a person or groups of persons who are obliged to leave their habitual place of residence, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, predominately for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment due to climate change." 


                    This page last updated 31 December 2023