Published on World Bank Voices

Millions on the move: What climate change could mean for internal migration

???? ?? ???? ??????? ???? ??????? ?????? ?? ??? ??? 86 ????? ????? ????? ???? ?????? ????? ??? 2050. يمكن أن تشهد إفريقيا جنوب الصحراء الكبرى ما يصل إلى 86 مليون مهاجر داخلي بسبب المناخ بحلول عام 2050.

When you think of climate migration, you probably think of people moving from one country to another to escape rising seas or expanding deserts. And to some extent, you’d be right. But the fact is, the vast majority of climate migrants are actually moving within their country’s borders. 

The findings of our new Groundswell report forecast that there could be up to 216 million internal climate migrants globally by 2050.  Hotspots of climate migration may start to emerge as early as 2030, as people leave places that can no longer sustain them and go to areas that offer opportunities. The drivers of these migrations, according to the report, will be water scarcity, declining crop productivity and sea-level rise.

People usually decide to leave after multiple seasons of failed crops, or year after year in which storm surges destroy homes and schools and taint the drinking water with salt.

Depending on the world’s collective actions taken today, the trajectory of internal climate migration in the next half-century could be reduced by as much as 80 percent – to 44 million people - by 2050.

Still, places that are expected to become hotspots of climate “out-migration” will likely continue to support large numbers of people – including those who have no other option but to stay. And areas that migrants move to may be ill-prepared to receive them and provide them with basic services or use their skills.

The report includes new projections and analyses from three regions, East Asia and the Pacific, North Africa, and Eastern Europe and Central Asia. It builds on the first Groundswell report from 2018, which covered Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America. Taken together, projections across all the regions out to 2050 find that: Sub-Saharan Africa could see as many as 86 million internal climate migrants; East Asia and the Pacific, 49 million; South Asia, 40 million; North Africa, 19 million; Latin America, 17 million; and Eastern Europe and Central Asia, 5 million. The poorest and most climate vulnerable areas would be disproportionately impacted.

But the scale of internal climate migration and location of hotspots are not cast in stone. There is still an opportunity to significantly curb these upheavals. Depending on the world’s collective actions taken today, the trajectory of internal climate migration in the next half-century could be reduced by as much as 80 percent  – to 44 million people - by 2050.

So what will it take to make this difference?

First and foremost, early action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to reduce the climate pressures that drive internal climate migration. This must be a global effort and it must happen now.

At the same time, it is important to recognize that we need a range of strategies to better manage or plan for climate-induced migration. The low-lying Mekong Delta faces sea-level rise compounded by water stress and drops in crop productivity. For Morocco, the foothills of the Atlas mountains will face severe water stress that could add to existing rural-urban migration. For the Small Island Developing States the available land area is shrinking and extreme weather events pose a threat to long-term habitability.

When anticipated and well managed, shifts in population distribution can become part of an effective adaptation strategy, allowing people to move out of poverty and build resilient livelihoods. Key to this is far-sighted planning for an orderly and well-managed internal climate migration, for instance, by integrating climate migration within broader migration patterns that can help fuel a country’s next generation of skills and jobs in both sending and receiving areas.

While internal climate migration may be a reality we cannot avoid, with the right action now it doesn’t have to become a crisis.

And planning must account for all phases of migration: before, during and after moving.

Good planning can help ensure that both sending and receiving areas are well equipped to meet the needs and aspirations of their populations. Investments are needed to help working-age populations find opportunities in climate resilient labor markets, along with good health care, education, and public services. Investment in human capital can increase communities’ ability to cope with climate change impacts, particularly by empowering women and youth, who are often the first to face high unemployment rates.

To support these plans, more research must be made available, including new granular data for different climate change impacts at the regional and country level. The World Bank’s Country Climate and Development Report can act as a tool for decision-makers to complement understanding of internal climate migration projections and patterns with more contextual analysis   to identify the most appropriate strategies in each location.

Climate-induced migration exposes the fundamental connection between climate change and development directly impacting lives and livelihoods. While internal climate migration may be a reality we cannot avoid, with the right action now it doesn’t have to become a crisis.


Authors

Juergen Voegele

Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank

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