Global Warming’s Impact on Migration

A good post by Aapo Markkanen at Global Economy Matters on the effect of global warming on migration and how that might interact with demographics. And he also points out that migration can exacerbate existing conflicts:

The UN-backed panel on climate change released its latest report on climate change last Friday… [T]here wasn’t much that was really new, yet one thing had surely changed -and that was the tone. If the human contribution to global warming was previously considered “likely” this time it was considered to be “very likely”, which in the present context means a probability of between 90 and 95 per cent. And modern science, in this case, can’t take you much further….

Now possibly it sounds somewhat banal to lump the climatic process together with, say, the demographic transition and country level trade deficits (not that it’d make those any less dramatic; the scale of situation, when we’re speaking of processes that can have an effect over a millennium or two, just happens to be different), but it is worth pointing out that climate change also has its own global imbalances. As is known, it will impact different parts of the world in different ways – basically the northern hemisphere will gain relatively more temperature than the southern one – but also because the zillions of climatic interrelations that occur make predicting the phenomena a damn tricky topic….

Global warming may well be the single most important factor to determine migration flows in the future, so its impact on demography should certainly not be be disregarded. Some countries, or at least parts of them, will become uninhabitably dry, or hazardous, whereas some others may simply vanish under the sea. Take for example Bangladesh, the land that is often perceived as a prime example of such risk – being as densely populated as it is flat. (It should be noted at this point however that the question of sea levels is perhaps the one that still requires more answers. This is where the estimations vary most, as all factors contributing to the effect aren’t known; for example the antarctic sea ice has so far decreased only minimally, probably because of increased snowfall. But then again, Bangladesh is very flat.) And you can probably guess where the inhabitants there, the Bengalis, would most rather go, in case they’ll have to move from their homes. This is one aspect that we shouldn’t forget, when discussing demographics in India.

The causes which can trigger large scale emigration can, of course, be indirect too -such as the conflicts arising from shortages of either land or water. This brief paper -by Idean Salehyan, from University of California, San Diego- argues that from the perspective of conflict prevention the distinction between the direct and indirect reasons for emigration is a pretty important one. The ones fleeing the disaster itself, are less likely to be politicized than the ones that have already taken part in a civil war over ever-scarcer resources in their country of origin.

And if we’re to try and predict environmental migration, then it’d maybe make sense to have a look at some current statistics; they tell quite clearly that the vast majority of refugees tend to concentrate in those countries which neighbour-on the sites of the orgininating conflict and danger. While there are always a number of refugees who make it to the West, most of them tend to end up somewhere nearby – where they form communities, and thus, in the course of time, begin to attract even more newcomers. So the biggest burden most usually falls upon countries that are only slightly better off than their troubled neighbours – and, as I would argue, this disparity of responsibilities will merely increase during times of climatic risk. If there’s a hasard like, say, a disastrous flood or draught, then it won’t surely recognise any borders, and if a country is poor it can can seldom afford the same protection as its richer counterpart. Millions will be between the devil and the deep blue sea -and quite literally so, at least when it comes to the latter.

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