Environmental degradation, climate change and migration: a global challenge

Abstract blur, bokeh, defocus - image for background. The refugees migrate to Europe

People have migrated in response to changing environmental conditions throughout human history. However, with migration and displacement now a growing focus of research, there is increasing recognition that climate change, natural disasters and environmental degradation are important factors in migrants’ decisions to leave their homes. With human activity causing significant changes to the climate and the natural world in recent decades, millions of people are being displaced from their homelands every year as a result of climate-related natural disasters – with the numbers exceeding those even of people displaced as a result of conflicts and wars. While the public and the media tend to concentrate on how extreme weather events, such as floods or landslides, trigger migration movements within a country and across borders, long-term, slow-onset environmental degradation and climate change are also likely to lead to significant migratory movements. The potential magnitude of these movements has yet to be determined, however.

The Federal Environment Agency (UBA) commissioned adelphi and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to carry out the project on climate change and migration in order to gain a better understanding of the complexity of the relationships between climate and environmental change and migration. The number of scientific studies on the environmental migration nexus has risen sharply in recent years, and now comprises a variety of disciplines and research approaches. The diverse findings of this research have shown that it is just as important to explore new ways of financing climate change, as it is to pay special attention to the resilience of vulnerable or marginalised groups.  Central questions for policymakers include: Which factors are decisive in determining whether mobility has a positive or negative impact on the living conditions of people affected by environmental and climate change? How can the interaction of different factors leading to migration be better understood? And what political measures can be taken to counter this phenomenon? Three studies provided answers to these and other questions. The first reviewed of the growing literature on the subject, and this was followed by an impact analysis and a response paper that outlinen targeted recommendations for German policymakers.

The project was carried out by adelphi on behalf of the Federal Environment Agency (UBA) in cooperation with the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The adelphis team and its project partners prepared three studies, with adelphi responsible for writing the third report on possible responses and recommendations regarding human mobility in the context of climate and environmental change. In addition, the project team organized an expert workshop and an international conference as part of the project to further develop their findings. In order to ensure a purposeful exchange with experts, the theses from the three sub-reports were condensed into a short discussion paper, which was discussed during the expert workshop and then incorporated back into the studies. On the basis of the findings from the studies and discussions, an international conference then provided a space for participants from around the world to exchange knowledge and experiences on this subject. The regional focus of the conference was on the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Philippines.

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