A new study on climate change induced displacement in and from Africa calls for a joint effort in migration, climate adaptation and development policies to protect the affected communities as adverse impacts of environmental change continue to undermine their livelihoods.
Global climate patterns are changing, triggering slow changes in ecosystems and agricultural productivity or sudden onset disasters, including hurricanes, heat waves and droughts.
Climate change will have a profound impact on population dynamics, but research shows a more complex reality than predictions of mass international migration.
In an effort to understand to what extent migration can represent a coping strategy for the communities hit by climate change impacts, JRC scientists analysed past trends and future population projections through the lenses of different climate scenarios.
The report published today quantifies the populations that will be exposed and vulnerable to climate change impacts in the future and identifies associations between climate change and net migration in the recent past.
Commissioner for Innovation, Research, Culture, Education and Youth, Mariya Gabriel said: “Data-driven and evidence-based research is fundamental for understanding and responding efficiently to global challenges such as the impact of climate change on human populations and mobility. The JRC report sheds some more light on this very complex topic and can help us in setting priorities for the years to come.”
Population exposure to climate change: Western Africa among hardest hit
JRC scientists expect regions in Africa to be among the most exposed to climate change by 2070.
According to JRC simulations, up to a sixth of the population living in West Africa could be exposed to an over 20% drop in agricultural productivity by 2070, under the most pessimistic climate scenarios.
People who live in rural areas, in poverty and who only have a primary level education or lower are considered particularly vulnerable.
Link between climate change and migration
Quantifying the number of people who will migrate due to climate change is a complex task with many uncertainties, not least because there is currently no clear definition of the concept of “climate migrant”.
When looking at a possible relationship between climate change and human mobility, it is quite straightforward to connect extreme weather events to the displacement of the impacted population, but it is much more challenging to determine whether migration, both across and within national borders, might be climate induced.
The JRC researchers looked at the possible links in the recent past between extreme weather events (such as extreme temperatures, heat waves and droughts) and net migration (the difference between the number of immigrants and the number of emigrants in the same region).
The scientists found evidence of an association between extreme weather and net migration in some African regions (e.g. parts of the Sahel), but these linkages were not systematic across the African continent and the associations vary according to the climate effects considered.
The analysis confirms that there is no systematic link between climate change and migration, and that possible linkages ultimately depend on many other factors including the local conditions, geography and the geopolitical situation.
The scientists explored a vast range of climate change indicators, but were not able to find a statistically significant and unequivocal relationship between climate change and displacement across the entire African continent.
The report emphasizes that migration processes are complex and multifaceted, responding to causes, incentives and determinants that intervene at levels that are structural, institutional and personal.
An individual’s decision to migrate depends on many factors. Not all people exposed to the impacts of climate change will decide to migrate, or have the economic means to migrate.
The JRC research confirms that although people with low education are expected to be more vulnerable to climate change impacts, they are also less likely to consider migration as an adaptation strategy to climate change.
Urgent need to focus on local adaptation solutions
The report encourages shifting the focus of the debate from the possible threat of international migration triggered by climate change to the humanitarian impact of climate change in the most vulnerable regions.
It urges to find effective adaptation measures to protect the lives and the livelihoods of the communities displaced by natural disasters and climate change.
The report indicates that a reduction of emissions has a major role in reducing the exposed population, and that improving the socioeconomic conditions will be fundamental for decreasing vulnerability of the populations in the exposed areas.
These adaptation measures should take into account local and regional demographic and socioeconomic factors as well the possible climate change trajectories in the geographical context.
The EU is active in providing support and targeted relief to prevent the negative impacts of climate change and to foster adaptation strategies in the most affected regions.
It has taken a global lead in addressing climate change with an ambitious package of initiatives under the overarching Green Deal priority, including its international dimension.
In February 2021, the Commission adopted a new EU Strategy on Adaptation to Climate Change, setting out the pathway to prepare for the unavoidable impacts of climate change and become climate-resilient by 2050 in the European Union and around the world.
In 2020, close to 50% of the funding for developing countries was dedicated to either climate adaptation or cross-cutting action (involving both climate change mitigation and adaptation initiatives). Earlier this week, the Commission announced a new pledge of €100 million in finance for the Adaptation Fund.
The EU has shared its proposals and ideas with its international partners during the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP26).
Supporting these efforts, the JRC’s new report is published in conjunction with a JRC-led session on climate-induced displacement at COP26.
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