Environmental Change and Migration: The Role of Urbanization in Conflict Processes

How does rural-to-urban migration generated by climate change affect urbanization? What are the economic and political settings that contribute to or impede the emergence of political violence and conflicts?


Environmental degradation and climate change are important push factors contributing both to internal and cross-border migration. As a result, migrants may lead to increased levels of competition over scarce resources in the receiving areas, potentially spurring violent conflict. This project proposes to examine the nexus of environmental change, migration, and conflict in more detail to address the theoretical and methodological gaps identified in the existing literature. The researchers will focus on internal and rural-to-urban migration and argue that environmental migration accelerates the process of urbanization with ambivalent consequences for the receiving areas.

On one hand, urbanization can foster economic development and improve economic efficiency of local governments and the provision of essential public goods and services. On the other hand, growing urbanization caused by large flows of in-migration can also pose substantial economic, social, and political challenges, generating conditions under which political violence and conflict are likely to emerge as locals compete with the newcomers.

They also argue that local political and economic conditions as well as governmental capacity are important in determining whether conflict actually materializes. To test this theory, the research carried out will compile original micro-level data for both environmental migrants to urban areas and residents in these urban locations as well as interviews of local stakeholders, e.g., politicians and city administrators. Five countries from three continents are selected according to their level of vulnerability to environmental change and to high levels of urbanization, thus satisfying the “most likely case” criterion.

In addition, the project will empirically investigate how aggregate migration flows to urban settings induced by adverse environmental conditions affect actual violence in these areas. This research will thus shed light on the highly complex nature of the migration-conflict nexus and provide an important foundation for the decisions to be taken by policymakers at national and international fora who have a responsibility to tackle these challenges.


  • Environmental change
  • Migration
  • Urbanization
  • Conflict


  • Climatology
  • Demography
  • Development
  • Economics
  • Environment
  • Geography
  • Political Science
  • Security
  • Statistics


International Organizations

  • UNEP
  • IOM

Relevant Countries

  • Developing countries


This is an ongoing project, which started in autumn 2017. The information here is updated regularly. If you have any inquiries please don’t hesitate to contact the project team via the form below.

Contact the project team

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Research team

Vally Koubi
University of Berne

Tobias Böhmelt
Principal Member
University of Essex

Gabriele Spilker
Principal Member
Universität Salzburg

Mahir Aliyev
Associated Member
UNEP United Nations Environment Programme

Zorzeta Bakaki
Associated Member
University of Essex

Manuel Fischer
Associated Member
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Quynh Nguyen
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Lena Maria Schaffer
Associated Member
Universität Luzern

Dirk Tiede
Associated Member
Universität Salzburg

Henrik Urdal
Associated Member
Peace Research Institute (PRIO)

Leila Urekenova
Associated Member
UNEP United Nations Environment Programme