Climate change as a subjacent factor of migration and mobility

Author

Mario Cárdenas

Juan Camilo Betancur Jaramillo

Source(s)
Stockholm Environment Institute

There is a myriad of factors that intervene and feed the current migratory dynamics. Most of them fall on the structural factors of the economy, social conditions, political and cultural aspects, and increasingly on environmental changes and the differentiated impacts of climate change. Understanding the latter is key to achieving equity, concrete responses, and progress in uncovering the nexus between migration and climate change.

Climate change-related migration  

There has been a growing interest in understanding and comprehending the intricate and complex phenomenon of climate migrations and displacement of people due to the impact of climate change. This is mainly due to different forecasts indicating that millions of people will begin to move and displace in the coming decades, coupled with an increase in international climate migrants

As a trending topic, migration arouses strong feelings: in some cases, highly politicized. However, given the multiple nuances and edges of migratory dynamics, several efforts have been made to understand and analyze them from different perspectives. These range from the “obligatory” nature of displacement (communities that are forced to migrate) to adaptation strategies to reduce risk exposure and improve adaptive capacity or even exploring fundamental factors of the economy, social living conditions, gender and cultural constraints of migratory movements and their relationship with climate change. 

Nevertheless, establishing a direct link between climate change and human migration is a complex issue. Recent evidence tries this focus and while it tends to show that climate change by itself does not directly displace people or cause their migration, data supports that it indeed produces higher vulnerabilities that make it difficult for people to survive in specific locations.

Considering all the above, researchers and practitioners have focused on recognizing the broader linkages and implications of a changing climate and environment on human mobility and demystifying that everyone will be equally affected by climate change, nor will all those at risk migrate. 

Approaching an individual decision-making process 

Under this same line of particular interest, the SEI’s Unravelling decision-making that leads to climate migration project aims to characterize the local factors that influence migration and inform policies to reduce climate change-induced migration in the municipality of Nacaome, Valle Department in the Dry Corridor of Honduras. 

In particular, the project focuses on analyzing and understanding the individual decision-making process to identify what factors are involved when an individual decides whether to migrate and the importance of each factor. Furthermore, this research goes beyond the regional scale to understand the drivers of migration and focuses on understanding this nexus at the local scale. 

Economic and social factors prevail 

The Central American Dry Corridor and the municipality of Nacaome are already facing environmental, migratory and population pressures that are expected to worsen in the coming years, with severe impacts identified in terms of drought, high poverty conditions, incomes below the cost of the basic food basket and increased dependence on agricultural activity. 

Preliminary results from field interviews indicate that the factors that most influence migration are associated with economic and social factors, such as unemployment, search for job opportunities, insecurity, violence, poverty and lack of income.

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Frequencies of factors identified as causes of migration in Nacaome. Own development. Source: Mario Cárdenas / SEI.

On the other hand, interviewees identified drought, floods, storms, heavy rains, increased temperatures, and heatwaves as secondary factors. Although they did not recognize climate change or its effects as a primary driver of migration, it was possible to link unemployment, poverty, and job opportunities with the low development of the region and fragility of livelihoods with a high vulnerability to changes in climate and its capacity due to low levels of human, financial and natural resources. 

 A way forward: keep asking questions  

Although studies at the regional and national levels are not scarce, more evidence from local contexts is needed to better assess and address the intensified problems triggered by climate change impacts, either directly or collaterally. As such, the main drivers of climate vulnerability that make people prone to move need to be targeted. 

Besides the fact that the effects of climate change are likely to increase as they take root, the study points out that they interact with other factors perceived by people as the main drivers of migration. The effects of climate change on migration are diverse and intertwined with social, political, and cultural factors and climate phenomena are only one of the issues that climate migration policies need to consider. Further work is required to address the social and economic roots of human and ecosystem vulnerability to climate change in a complex and integrated manner in a policymaking context that protects and addresses the needs of potential climate migrants. 

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