What is Climate Migration?

by Hayd Mohamed

Climate change has widespread multifaceted effects, one of which is climate migration. The response to changes in climatic conditions and climatic hazards can lead to forced migration [1]. The widespread effects of climate change have been closely linked in playing a crucial role as a push factor for migration [6].

The adverse impacts of climate change are expected to lead to displacement, Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia are regions of the world which are predicted to generate up to 143 million climate migrants by 2050 [2]. These displacements are oftentimes not voluntary but forced, they therefore need to be understood as two very different things. In 2017, 68.5 million people were forcibly migrating due to climatic effects such as flooding, drought intensification, storm events, and forest fires [2]. These naturally occurring events are being intensified by air pollution and anthropogenic climate change, which has led to sea level rise, desertification, and extreme weather events which has exacerbated the events [2]. 

Nigeria is a country that is predicted to experience a large decrease in its population due to forced climate related migration, suffering from an increase in temperature, variable rainfall, drought, and desertification [5]. Lake Chad, which spreads into Nigeria, is used for agriculture and essential as a water source. However, desertification as well as misuse of the water and deforestation have led to a shrinking of the lake’s water volume by almost 90% over the last 60 years [7].

On top of water and food scarcity being an issue and leading to the involuntary uprooting of migrants, development in the countries affected by these climatic hazards are also significantly hindered. Economic growth is directly undermined by the large outflow of climate migrants as it puts a large financial strain on both, the origin country’s government and the host country in which migrants choose to resettle [8]. These ecological threats are only set to worsen and are expected to have the most profound effects in countries where the political fabric is fragile. Adaptation and mitigation measures are either insufficient or non-existence causing delays in response to environmental degradation and major hazard or climate events [8].

Despite currently 1% of the world’s population living in conditions deemed uninhabitable and designated hot zones this number is only said to increase to 19% by 2070 [4]. Globally, the fresh water has seen a 60% decrease compared to 50 years ago and the demand for food is only anticipated to rise by 50% [9]. A coordinated global discussion surrounding the topic needs to be brought to the forefront in order to best mitigate and effectively respond to the predicted millions of people that will inevitably be forced to relocate due to climatic effects if no actions are taken.


[1] Giovanni Bettini, 2014. Climate migration as an adaption strategy: de-securitizing climate-induced migration or making the unruly governable?. Critical Studies on Security, 2(2), pp.180-195. DOI: 10.1080/21624887.2014.909225
[2] John Podesta, 2019. The climate crisis, migration, and refugees. [online] Brookings. Available at: https://www.brookings.edu/research/the-climate-crisis-migration-and-refugees/ [Accessed 2nd June 2021].
[3] Earth Org. 2020. Climate Crisis Could Displace 1.2 Billion People By 2050- Study | Earth.Org – Past | Present | Future. [online] Available at: https://earth.org/climate-crisis-could-displace-1-2-billion-people-by-2050/ [Accessed 27 May 2021].
[4] Julia Toscano, 2015. Climate Change Displacement and Forced Migration: An International Crisis. Ariz. J. Envtl. L. & Pol’y, 6, 457.
[5] Huma Haider, 2019. Climate change in Nigeria: Impacts and responses | PreventionWeb.net. [online] Preventionweb. Available at: https://www.preventionweb.net/publications/view/68975 [Accessed 2 June 2021].
[6] Johannes Luetz, 2019. Climate Refugees: Why Measuring the Immeasurable Makes Sense Beyond Measure. Climate Action, pp.286-299. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-95885-9_81
[7] National Geographic. 2017. An Uncertain Future on the Shores of Africa’s Vanishing Lake. [online] Available at: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/photography/article/lake-chad-desertification [Accessed 1 June 2021].
[8] Betsy Hartmann, 2010. Rethinking climate refugees and climate conflict: Rhetoric, reality and the politics of policy discourse. Journal of International Development, 22(2), pp.233-246.DOI: 10.1002/jid.1676.
[9] The Guardian. 2020. Climate crisis could displace 1.2bn people by 2050, report warns. [online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/sep/09/climate-crisis-could-displace-12bn-people-by-2050-report-warns [Accessed 28 May 2021].
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