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Climate Change, Migration and Critical International Security Considerations

image of Climate Change, Migration and Critical International Security Considerations

This report reviews the available scholarly reporting on climate change, migration and security and describes the legal and policy challenges facing the international community. While there is indeed considerable evidence that climate does influence migration, future estimates are hampered by a lack of reliable data. Climate-related migration is closely connected to the social, economic, cultural and institutional processes that shape the vulnerability and adaptive capacity of exposed populations. Conflict may potentially emerge in situations of resource scarcity and resource abundance, but in most cases there will be opportunities for intervention before violence occurs. Most climate change-driven migration is likely to occur with countries and regions, although there will be increased international movements along established migrant networks. To avoid large-scale distress migrations, the report outlines priority actions for policymakers to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, enhance adaptive capacity in vulnerable regions, and provide assistance to those displaced.

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How climate affects migration

There is widespread recognition among scholars that environmental conditions, including climatic variability and change, can and do influence migration (Hugo, 1996; Hunter, 2005; Shah, 1994). Academic and popular discussions of climate-related migration tend to take place within the broader debate about “environmental refugees”, a type of migration described by El-Hinnawi (1986) as occurring when people are involuntarily displaced in response to environmental conditions or events that may occur naturally (e.g. earthquakes) or are anthropogenic in origin (e.g. flooding of river valleys behind large dams). A range of climatic events and conditions, such as extreme storm events, droughts and so forth, have the potential to stimulate large pulses of environmental refugees, and the frequency and severity of many such events is expected to increase in many regions as a result of climate change (Solomon et al., 2007). Yet, environmental refugees represent only one end of a continuum of possible environment-migration outcomes (McLeman and Hunter, 2010). At the other end of the continuum is the environmental amenity migrant who voluntarily seeks better-quality environmental conditions. Examples might include a family with an asthma-prone child that leaves a congested megacity for another city’s better air quality, or the retired “snowbird” who leaves the hard winters of northern North America for Florida’s sunnier climes. Movements of amenity migrants can be sizeable; for example, one study suggests that each winter a full 1 per cent of the Canadian population spends more than three weeks (i.e. longer than the typical holiday vacation) in the southern United States (Coates et al., 2002). A great many other possibilities exist between the two extremes of environmental refugee and amenity-seeker, and, in many instances, it may be difficult to distinguish environmental influences from political, economic, social, and cultural factors that may also concurrently influence migration behaviour (Suhrke, 1994; Hunter, 2005).

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