Migration and Global Climate Change: Future Challenges and Opportunities

The final report on migration and global environmental change by the Government Office of Science London, stems stems from the premise that human migration encompasses drivers and consequences in such a diverse field of areas that these areas should unite to find a common policy recommendation for the issue. The five main drivers identified by the report illustrate the range of disciplinary fields involved in the subject of human migration: economic, social, political, demographic, and environmental; however, the authors of the report do distinguish between the conditional levels of support each category has in varied scenarios. On average, economic concerns have the greatest relative impact on human migration. Although often perceived as the most dominant, social factors usually come second to economic reasons for migration. In regard to environmental impact, deserts and dry lands are noted as exceptional regions where migration is a substantial concern for the sustainability of the livelihood and quality of life of human populations. – Adriane Holter
Foresight: Migration and Global Environmental Change, 2011. Final Project Report. The Government Office for Science, London.

          A desert dryland is defined as having limited soil moisture with low rainfall and high evaporation rates. These areas are home to 2 billion people, totaling 40% of the earth’s surface. Drylands are also subject to land degradation due to harsh environmental conditions and human activities such as agriculture. As a result of land degradation, the already limited natural resources in these arid regions diminish to levels where humans often are unable to sustain a comfortable existence and thus decide to migrate. These regions are also highly susceptible to sustained  periods of drought, further imperiling human livelihoods. The researchers anticipate, through the study of temperature change and rainfall in Southern Africa, West Africa, North Africa, and Mexico, that since 1970 these regions have experienced a strong, steady increase in the number of people that have relocated. In comparison to the numbers leaving, a comparatively miniscule number of people are immigrating into or returning to these regions.
          Overall, the researchers of the study seem to frame migration as a traditional social tool that has been adapted as a solution for the dilemmas posed to humans in rapidly deteriorating environments. Furthermore, many of the traditional drivers for human movement (e.g. economic and social) are the cause of pressures resulting from environmental conditions. Therefore, it is fair to state that ecological reasons account for a large majority of the drivers that cause human migration; however, the type of migration that may occur in any given scenario is subject to several factors. This study identifies two main types of migration: rural-to-rural migration aimed at diversifying social and economic opportunities and longer-distance migration. The former often lowers the likelihood of the latter, which requires economic capital to undertake. Perception is also identified as a crucial element for movement. If a person perceives a situation to be more dire than it truly is, they will respond as if the situation were indeed that dire. Thus, real and perceived impacts of climate change have the potential to create a lived impact on human demographics. The way in which these different modes and reasons for migration unfold is largely determined by the unique political and social structures within which they occur.
          Additionally, the paper highlights the dilemma of ‘trapped’ populations that experience extreme impacts from climate change and are unable to plan migration due to these circumstances. The researchers recommend that due to its vulnerability, this group of people should be given priority for relief from policy makers. If policy responses are not made to correct for the dilemmas of ‘trapped’ populations and all those impacted by climate change, the researchers suggest that marginalized groups will be highly susceptible to extreme environmental events, conflict is likely to occur, and management will result in political upheaval and displacement. Well-researched and multi-disciplinary educated policy formulas are the best way to combat these projections of the future of climate change on human populations.

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