Climate change, population and migration

While Europe is struggling to find answers and solutions how to deal with what is referred to as the Refugee Crisis, many of the people and families who left their country for different reasons are now stuck in camps in Greece facing a bitter cold winter. A humanitarian crisis has unfolded on Europe’s doorstep. The vast majority of the refugees and asylum seekers come from Syria where a civil war has claimed some 500,000 lives so far. Other refugees are from different African countries and reasons for them to leave home include political oppression, exclusion and marginalization, insecurity and lack of livelihood opportunities. Factors that affect livelihood opportunities include but are not limited to high levels of demographic growth and climate change. The population growth of 2.5 percent in Ethiopia alone means that some 2.5 million young people enter the job market every year. For the whole of Africa this adds up to tens of millions aspirant workers looking for employment in one way or the other. Many conclude that there are better opportunities in other countries and embark on risky routes to try and reach Europe. They face very difficult obstacles on the way and many lose their lives trying to cross the Mediterranean at the hands of merciless traffickers. They are often referred to as economic refugees and will have very little chance to get asylum in Europe. Their hopes for a better life are often crushed the moment they land on European soil.

Climate change is another important driver for migration. According to a policy brief by Population Action International,drought, floods, severe weather and other effects of climate change have begun to threaten communities in many parts of the world. “These impacts will worsen in the future, contributing to growing human migration as vulnerable people seek safer, more stable living conditions. This expected migration of hundreds of millions of people can negatively affect human wellbeing and political stability. Rapid population growth in areas vulnerable to climate change will contribute to migration pressures by further straining limited natural resources and increasing population density in areas exposed to climate risks, including sea level rise. Responding to the demand for family planning and reproductive health, especially in areas that are highly vulnerable to climate change, can slow population growth and reduce migration pressures. People have always moved from place to place in search of greater opportunity, but climate change is expected to trigger larger and more complex waves of human migration. Disruption of ecosystem-dependent livelihoods will likely remain a leading driver of long-term migration over the next two to three decades, and climate change is likely to exacerbate this situation.”And: “Demographic trends play an important role in vulnerability to climate change impacts and contribute to climate-induced migration. Yet population is often overlooked in the development of climate change adaptation strategies, including efforts to address climate-induced migration.”

According to UNFPA “Climate change is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today. Its effects are already being felt – from strengthened storms and rising sea levels to changing temperature and weather patterns – and they will only grow worse. Urgent action is needed to reduce emissions and to mitigate and adapt to these changes. Everyone will be impacted by climate change, especially those who are poor, vulnerable and lacking the resources to adapt. All communities will need to build resilience and sustainability. And with migration and urbanization taking place on an unprecedented scale, this will require understanding how populations are changing, and then planning to address people’s current and future needs.” “Climate change threatens the livelihoods and well-being of all people and societies. Yet the impacts of climate change will likely be worse for the poor and marginalized, who have contributed little to greenhouse gas emissions but who lack the resources to effectively adapt as droughts, floods and other consequences take effect.And because climate change affects ecosystems and agriculture, many of the negative effects will disproportionately burden poor women, who bear the responsibilities of food production and water collection in many parts of the world.”“To adapt to the changes already underway, and to promote climate-resistant development in the future, population data needs to be integrated into planning. New technologies must also be developed and deployed to slow the pace of climate change and to facilitate sustainable development. Technical cooperation among countries is also needed to shift to greener economies.And, critically, patterns of consumption must change to slow the frenetic waste of natural resources. One of the most established, efficient and just ways to change consumption is to invest in universal public infrastructures and services. This can improve the efficiency of transport, housing and utilities – three of the major forms of consumption.

Urbanization also offers an opportunity for action. The world is urbanizing at a dramatic rate, and with the right policies, cities can be made inclusive and sustainable. By improving energy efficiency and planning for the needs of both current and future residents, urban planning can make cities a vital part of the solution to climate change.”

It is important for all of us who engage in policy development, planning, implementation of development activities, and doing business to understand the factors that lead to climate change and migration if we are to find effective and sustainable solutions to the problems that the world, countries, communities and individuals face.