Published on People Move

Climate change, human mobility, and development

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In observance of the International Migrants Day, Dec 18

An often-overlooked issue in assessing the impact of and responses to climate change-related mobility is the role development actors play in addressing causes and identifying potential solutions for affected persons. A new article in Migration Studies helps close this gap. The article focuses on  the work of the World Bank’s Climate Change Group and the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD).

Human mobility in the context of climate change is indeed a critical issue from a development perspective, as reflected in the Sustainable Development Goals. Goals 10.7. and 13 encourage states to ‘facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people’ and demand ‘urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’, with a focus on enhancing mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk reduction practices. The World Bank’s development goals of eradicating extreme poverty and boosting shared prosperity further recognize the need to build capacity in these areas.

The World Bank is attempting to mainstream climate migration into development planning and policy. Its ground-breaking report, Groundswell, has contributed to a better understanding of the impacts of climate mitigation and development strategies on internal migration in the context of environmental change. Current work will provide a more complete picture of potential climate migration by extending the Groundswell modeling analysis to additional regions and sub-regions where the World Bank is engaged. The World Bank Group’s support to address climate driven migration also includes the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery and an Adaptive Social Protection Program in the Sahel, which identifies new and existing social protection systems to address potential displacement before extreme climate events become disasters.

KNOMAD’s Thematic Working Group (TWG) on Environmental Change and Migration has been investing in three objectives, namely a) increasing understanding of the impact of environmental change on migration through stock taking of the literature, expert consultation, research and stakeholder dialogue; b) increasing policy-relevant knowledge and information; and c) ensuring that knowledge is available to policymakers within the World Bank, other international organizations, governments and nongovernmental organizations. In particular, the TWG has aimed to strengthen the evidence base by improving data and methodologies for understanding the linkages between environmental change and mobility.

In all of these endeavors, an explicit development lens is indispensable for approaching climate change and human mobility. Collaboration between development actors and with organizations focused on human mobility within and across international borders is essential. It is urgent that organizations that focus on climate change, migration and development operate more collaboratively to ensure a holistic understanding of these processes. This means collaborative research, pilot testing of integrative approaches, and, ultimately, a seamless set of policies and programs to build resilience and reduce vulnerability to climate change.


Susan Martin

Director, Institute for the Study of International Migration, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

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