Climate Migration

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Climate migration or climate-induced migration describes the permanent or temporary change of location of an individual or group of people due to environmental changes caused by global warming. These changes occur suddenly (rapid-onset) or gradually (slow-onset), forcing people to permanently or temporarily leave their place of residence. Displacement can occur due to destruction caused by natural disasters, but movements may also be planned in anticipation of gradual environmental changes (planned resettlement). 

Despite high exposure to climate impacts in severely threatened regions, people may not always be able or willing to leave their homes. Reasons for this can include a lack of resources; gender may also play a role. The nature of migration varies greatly depending on the region and situation of the affected individuals. It usually occurs within countries rather than across borders.

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, there were 32.6 million internal displacements in 2022 due to natural disasters, mainly storms and floods. Some of these extreme weather phenomena are linked to the climate crisis, as their frequency and intensity are increasing.

When projecting future migration patterns related to climate impacts, scientists face challenges created by limited data availability and an interplay of multiple factors. Climate migration patterns are not only influenced by emission scenarios, but also by socioeconomic inequality or population growth, for example. Despite such intricacies, it is undeniable that significantly more people will be at risk of displacement at higher degrees of warming.

Migration is a multidimensional decision in which not only economic but also culture, family, and other factors are considered. Climate change impacts are rarely the sole cause of migration but can influence other determinants. In the case of sudden destruction from natural disasters, migration becomes a means of ensuring survival. In some cases, migration may be an effective adaptation strategy to climate change.

As early as 1990, the scientific assessment reports of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) highlighted that migration and displacement may be among the most severe consequences of climate change. This topic was formally integrated into the process under the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change through the Cancún Adaptation Framework at COP16 in 2010. At COP19 in 2013, the Warsaw Mechanism for Loss and Damage was initiated and with it the “human mobility” workstream and the task force on displacement.