Published on People Move

Migration Policies: Hot Topics

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(With Roberto Ponce)

Migration issues have been at the center of discussion in the international agenda, mainly because of the financial crises and the new protectionism measures implemented by developed countries. Despite these current issues, there are several long-term topics that will require further research and attention within next decades.

Among these topics - climate change and demographic changes, and their respective linkages with migration, will be the most challenging one in terms of policy design.

Regarding demographic changes, developed countries (Europe, Japan) are aging whileAfrica, Middle East, and South Asia still experience a transitional demographic change. The challenge will be to meet the needs of migrants with their specific requirements of skills in developed countries, and the offer of youth labor with their specific stock of skills from developing countries. Countries need to be ready to meet these demands.

The migration pressure due to the demographic changes could be exacerbated by several factors, such as: social conflict and security, longer economic crisis, and environmental events. On the one hand, the issues of social conflict and economic crisis have been analyzed extensively in the literature, but on the other hand, these linkages between environmental events and migration require further research. 

Among the environmental events, climate change needs special consideration given its long-term impacts. Climate change is already happening, and in the coming decades it is expected to increase climate variability event such as extreme floods and droughts. These unexpected changes in climate conditions will have an uneven impact across countries and economic activities.

We want to discuss two linkages between climate change and migration. The first one is related to occurrence of extreme weather events, such as: floods, drought, hurricanes, and fires, among others. The increasing occurrence of these events could generate migration flows within countries and across countries. These types of migrants are referring as “environmental refugees”.

There is evidence that suggests that climate change will imply a change in temperatures, rainfall patterns, and CO2 concentration, among others. In this context of climate variability, agriculture is likely to be one of the most affected activities in developing countries. The main impact is expected over yield productivity, affecting cash crops and food availability. This change in yield productivity could have an impact on internal and international migration flows. 

A recently published study analyzes the impact of climate change on the US-Mexico migration flows. According to the study by the year 2080 “climate change is estimated to induce 1.4 to 6.7 million adult Mexicans of the current populations to emigrate as a result of declines in agricultural productivity”. According to our views, the paper has two shortcomings. The first one is related to the measurement of climate change, and the other one is about the specific impacts of other migration motives.

In order to avoid misleading policy recommendations, future research about the relationship of climate change and migration should consider carefully: differences between climate change and other migration push factors and analysis of long-term data, among others.


Sonia Plaza

Senior Economist, Finance, Competitiveness and Innovation Global Practice, World Bank

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