Environmental Change and Migration

What are the generalised, large scale factors of the environment-migration relationship and to what extent is it conditional on various individual, socio-economic, and political factors?

Project Summary

The debate on whether and how environmental changes affect human security and, ultimately, force people to leave their homes and migrate to places more conducive to their wellbeing, has experienced a strong revival in the climate change context.

While various studies predict large environmental migration flows due to climate change and other environmental disorders, they do not investigate sufficiently whether the relationship between climate change and migration holds for a large set of countries and for different types of environmental afflictions.

Most importantly also, the environment-migration relationship may be conditional on various individual, socio-economic, and political factors. This project aims at filling several of the theoretical, empirical, and methodological gaps that do persist in the existing literature in order to gain a better understanding of whether, when, and how environmental change might lead to migration.

The findings of this research may be used by international organisations, such as the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that seek to develop effective policies and programmes for dealing with environmental migration.

Academic Output

Working Paper

Environmental Change and Migration

What is the role of environmentally induced migration in the climate-change context? While there is broad consensus that environmental factors might affect human mobility, the ex-post empirical evidence on this is inconclusive. This research contributes to the emerging empirical literature in this field by examining whether and how environmental change leads to internal (i.e., domestic) migration at the micro level. It is argued that individual perceptions of and attitudes toward different types of environmental change determine migration decisions in diverse ways. Empirically, the corresponding argument is analyzed with newly collected survey data from five developing countries, which include both individuals who migrated and individuals who decided to stay. The results suggest that individual perceptions of and attitudes toward long-term environmental events, such as droughts, have no significant effect on internal migration. However, sudden-onset environmental events, such as floods, significantly increase the chances to move. These findings suggest that “climate-refugee scenarios” are likely to be exaggerated and, hence, a more differentiated perspective on the issue of environmental migration based on adaptation is needed.

Executive Summary

This project contributes to the existing literature on the environmental change–migration nexus along the following lines: at the theoretical level, it proposes an argument that systematically links different types of environmental stressors– notably short- vs. long-term environmental events– as well as individual perceptions of the environmental event to decisions of individuals to migrate or stay. At the empirical level, it tests the plausibility of the arguments, using original survey data from Vietnam, Cambodia, Uganda, Nicaragua and Peru, including both individuals who migrated and individuals who decided to stay. It also implements an agent-based model (ABM) to simulate climate-induced migration for alternative future climate scenarios using the newly collected micro-level data to calibrate the model. Results from the survey in Vietnam show that sudden and short-term environmental weather events significantly increase the likelihood that an individual opts for migration, while slow-onset and long-term environmental events do either not influence or significantly reduce the likelihood of migration. Furthermore the computation results indicate that migration flows will increase in the future mainly due to the increase in the frequency of sudden and short-term environmental weather events such as heavy precipitation.

Research Team

Vally Koubi
Coordinator
University of Berne

Tobias Böhmelt
Co-Coordinator
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Gabriele Spilker
Co-Coordinator
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Lucas Beck
Principal Member
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Tobias Siegfried
Principal Member
Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

Status

completed

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