Should migration be a way of adapting to climate change? As the world warms, our focus moves from how we can reduce emissions, to how we can adapt to life on a warmer planet. Our new briefing paper explores whether migration could become a key strategy for some people to cope with the impacts of climate change. The paper looks at this complex and controversial notion of migration as adaptation.
Migration as adaptation, exploring mobility as a coping strategy for climate change, explores the possibility of migrating as a way of coping with climate change impacts, but also examines some of the risks involved in such strategies.
A number of researchers have argued that migration has for centuries been a traditional coping strategy that could be set to increase in the face of climate change. Rather than viewing migration as a last resort these researchers have proposed the idea that migration could become a new way for people to diversify agricultural livelihoods in response to climate change impacts.
Such migration strategies give an individual the chance to diversify their income, allows the spreading of risk for the household, and the sending of money back to family members, which would, in turn, increase resilience back home.
However, migration is not a silver bullet when it comes to adaptation. Migrating to pursue alternative livelihoods does not always lead to a more stable life. There are cases where people who move – especially into poor housing in cities – could be exposed to new and different risks.
Even so, migration as adaptation is a policy area that must be given more consideration. Specifically policy makes could consider how they can assist people who wish to move away from risky areas, but are trapped by increasing poverty and livelihood degradation. For example, support could be funnelled into programmes such as education and information to allow the choice for migration. Consideration should also be given to strengthening and building infrastructure in informal urban settlements where newly arrived migrants often live.
By not addressing migration, development organisations could be devaluing a prominent and important adaptation strategy. They can also serve to further entrench power imbalances and miss out on helping the most vulnerable.