Climate Change

Below is an excerpt from Chapter 9 “Migration in the context of the slow-onset impacts of climate change: Taking stock and taking action” WMR 2022. Review it and answer the questions below.

People at risk

Other critical sources of information focus on people residing in climate-vulnerable areas where adverse impacts of slow-onset events are expected to worsen. Data on people at risk are available for many parts of the world. Rising temperatures are a growing concern as exposure to high heat threatens habitability and can lead to loss of labour productivity. For instance, a 2017 report estimates that with a 1.5°C global temperature rise, 30 to 60 million people will live in hot areas where the average heat in the hottest month is likely to be too high for a human body to function well. A warmer world will put millions of people at threat of sea-level rise, and a world warmer by 1°C could directly expose 2.2 per cent of the world’s population to rising seas. As with reporting the data on future projections, special care should be taken to present the caveats inherent to such numbers. While it is possible that many individuals and families will migrate to cope with climate impacts, it is also clear that not all people living in at-risk areas will want or have the opportunity to migrate. Scenarios arising where such projections become realities – leading to people at risk migrating out of affected areas – will only occur if appropriate and evidence-based policymaking decisions are not taken. It is therefore critical to remember that there is a window of opportunity to ensure that the worst predictions do not come to pass, and that policymakers need support to analyse existing knowledge, make appropriate connections and take decisions that address both the mobility and immobility dimensions of climate change. The lack of comprehensive data on migration linked to slow-onset climate events remains a barrier in developing evidence-based policymaking. In many cases, it is difficult to isolate climate factors from other social, economic, political and security drivers that motivate the decision to migrate. This is especially true in relation to slow-onset events, as they do not usually lead to immediate large-scale movements. Therefore, it is possible for instance that many migrants who are understood to be migrating for economic reasons, also migrate in part because of climate impacts on their livelihoods. Another example relates to conflict and security. When political, economic and social factors of instability intersect, population movements might exacerbate State fragility and contribute to increasing conflict. The Syrian civil war, where exceptional drought contributed to population movements towards urban areas that were not addressed by the political regime, is often cited as an illustration of these linkages.

However, existing evidence does not allow the firm conclusion that there exists a direct link between migration, climate change and conflict. In terms of policymaking, it is however important to consider that climate change often acts as a threat multiplier in fragile contexts. Even if this multicausal nature makes it impossible to offer a global overview of hard numbers of people migrating in the context of slow-onset climate impacts, there is enough information available to understand the scale of the issue. In this respect, researchers can best support policymakers by providing context-specific analyses of converging sources. However, policymakers will need to accept that there is no clear-cut way to obtain hard numbers and that policymaking decisions need to acknowledge this complexity. As described in the next section, multilateral United Nations policy dialogues are increasingly discussing policy stakes related to climate migration, including slow-onset dimensions. These global policy discussions are already impacting national- and regional-level policymaking, with several countries developing national policy frameworks that align with global discussions. However, better data and analysis would help operationalize national responses to migration linked to slow-onset climate impacts.


  1. Who is at risk?

  2. Why is data on migration and climate impacts important?

  3. What does it mean when climate change is a threat multiplier in fragile contexts?