Foresight report on migration and global environmental change
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Foresight’s two year study into Migration and Global Environmental Change has examined how changes in environmental conditions such as flooding, drought and rising sea levels will influence and interact with patterns of global human migration over the next 50 years. These patterns of human movement, 75 per cent of which is inside national borders, will present major challenges and potential opportunities for communities and policy makers at national and international levels.
The project’s final report reveals that the major challenges associated with migration and environmental change have been underestimated and that by focusing solely on those that might leave vulnerable areas, we risk neglecting those that will be ‘trapped’ and those that will actually move towards danger.
Migration can also have a transformative role in helping communities adapt to hazardous conditions. Migration in the face of global environmental change may therefore not be just part of the ‘problem’ but also part of the solution: planned and facilitated approaches to human migration can ease people out of situations of vulnerability.
The report states that the cost of inaction is likely to be higher than the costs of proposed measures. Giving urgent policy attention to migration in the context of environmental change now will prevent a much worse and more costly situation in the future.
Main findings of the Migration and Global Environmental Change project
- Millions will be ‘trapped’ in vulnerable areas and unable to move, particularly in low-income countries.
Migration is costly, and with environmental conditions such as drought and flooding eroding people’s livelihoods, migration – particularly over long distances – may be less possible in many situations. This creates high risk conditions.
- People will increasingly migrate towards environmentally vulnerable areas.
Rural to urban migration is set to continue, but many cities in the developing world are already failing their citizens with flooding, water shortages and inadequate housing. Preliminary estimates show that up to 192 million more people will be living in urban coastal floodplains in Africa and Asia by 2060, through both natural population growth and rural-urban migration.
- Migration can transform people’s ability to cope with environmental change.
Migration can open up new sources of income which help communities become stronger and more resilient. For instance, 2009 remittances to low income countries were at $307 billion, nearly three times the value of overseas development aid. These kinds of income flows may actually make it possible for households, particularly in low income countries, to stay in situ for longer.
The findings have implications for policy areas beyond the migration and environmental spheres, including sustainable development, climate change adaptation, urban planning and humanitarian assistance, for example:
- Global policies and funding mechanisms will be more robust if they recognise the role of migration in helping to build long-term resilience. International adaptation and development policies will be better able to deliver if they take account of the links between global environmental change and migration, and recognise that migration can be part of the solution.
- Long term urban planning can address critical issues such as water availability, more frequent hazards and the well-being of new migrants, who are often the most vulnerable.
Professor Sir John Beddington, the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser and Head of the Foresight programme, described the significance of the report and its lessons:
“Environmental change threatens to have a profound impact on communities around the world – particularly in low income countries. However, this report finds that the nature of the global challenge goes beyond just focusing on those that might try to move away from areas of risk. Millions will migrate into – rather than away from – areas of environmental vulnerability, while an even bigger policy challenge will be the millions who will be ‘trapped’ in dangerous conditions and unable to move to safety.
“The evidence is also clear that under some circumstances migration, particularly in low income countries, can transform a community’s ability to cope with environmental change. The movement of individuals or small groups, even at a local or regional level, may increase the future resilience of large communities. This will reduce the risk of both humanitarian disasters and of potentially destabilising mass migration under high risk conditions.
“It is essential to do all we can to both address environmental change and make sure people are as resilient as possible in the face of hazards. This means recognising the role migration can play in helping people cope. For policy makers – particularly those making decisions on climate adaptation – these findings will be critical.”
Professor Richard Black, chair of the project’s Lead Expert Group and Head of the School of Global Studies and Professor of Geography at the University of Sussex explained the global scope of the study, which has involved 350 experts in over 30 countries:
“This report is unique in both its substantial evidence base and in its global approach, and will provide policy makers and others in the environment and development fields with a firm basis upon which to tackle the migration challenges of the future.”
- Migration and Global Environmental Change: download the full project report, summary and supporting documents, including 70 evidence papers.
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