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Demographics and climate change: future trends and their policy implications for migration

This working paper seeks to explore the potential impact of future demographic and climate change on migration patterns in developing countries, in order to identify policy implications for international development and evidence gaps that could be plugged with appropriate new research.

The author concedes that this paper is a long way away from predicting with any degree of certainty what the migration consequences of climate change might be over the next 40-50 years. Estimates of the likely numbers of ‘environmental’ or ‘climate change’ migrants or refugees are guesses at best, and have their origin in a mapping of likely climate impacts, but such a mapping doesn’t allow for any concomitant understanding of how migration might be sensitive to such impacts. It is unclear how far climate change will emerge as a significant or predominant factor in influencing human migration, distinct from other economic, social or political factors, and/or overriding their effect. However, it is recognised that the challenges posed by climate change are many, and that these challenges are likely to be particularly acutely felt by the world’s poorer populations. A number of policy responses may be appropriate. These include:

  • climate sensitive development policies- These should include new policies to build specific adaptive capacity amongst some of the most affected populations in areas such as the African Sahel, as well as the integration of climate change concerns into existing policies, to ensure that programmes do not further undermine the resilience of the poor when faced with climate change
  • policies to support migrants- including Incorporation of migration into National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA), incorporation of both migration and climate change into national development plans, and Policies aimed at ensuring the social protection of more vulnerable or poorer migrants
  • research into migration and climate change- Given the absence of local and regional data, a final area in which policy makers must take action is to support further research, both to understand the specific causes and consequences of migration associated with climate change, and to seek to improve estimates of the likely numbers involved.