Climate change causes more migration than war and economic factors

cambio climático y migraciones
Current events
02 December 2019

Although the factors driving international migration are complex and change over time, historically, most studies have focused on political aspects, related to ideological persecution or war in countries of origin, and socio-economic aspects, such as the expectation of improved living conditions.

However, in recent years the effect of climate variables in countries of origin has been studied as one of the drivers of migration, especially due to the impact that climate change can have on living conditions.

Climate change is noticeable in the form of droughts, torrential rainfall, floods... And the impact on impoverished areas translates into the loss of the way of life of thousands or millions of people.

  • According to a study published in the journal Global and Planetary Change and for some researchers, climate change is more important for migration than economic and political factors in countries of origin.

This latest study has analysed data on migration to 16 OECD member states from 198 countries of origin between 1980 and 2015. According to its results, higher temperatures and the increasing number of climate-related natural disasters in countries of origin are key factors in increasing migration flows.

The authors of the study say they have found strong evidence that migration is fundamentally an adaptation strategy to cope with the effects of climate change. The analysis focused on 16 countries, including the seven that received the most migrants in 2015: USA, Germany, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Spain and Italy.

The new study highlights the importance of understanding the determinants of migration and instability in order to develop appropriate policy tools that can cope with the projected increase in the coming decades.

According to the latest United Nations Report on International Migration, 3.3% of the world's population, or some 250 million people, are migrants. In addition, the report also shows that change in migration is accelerating and projects some 405 million international migrants by 2050.

  • The Difficulty of Defining Climate Refugees

With regard to the treatment of those displaced by climate change, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) announced last year the creation of a working group to address these displacements and, last December, the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Global Compact for Refugees, which recognizes that climate, environmental degradation and natural disasters increasingly interact as drivers of refugee displacement.

However, despite this explicit recognition, international institutions do not endorse the term "climate refugee" and refer to them as "displaced persons in the context of natural disasters and climate change", because this new figure does not exist in international law. The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees defined them as "persons who have crossed an international border for well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion".

In the 21st century, it seems that this figure needs to be revised or updated or a new one needs to be created to protect these migrants.

Sources: and others