What has the IPCC actually said about migration and climate change?

In the run up to the release of the IPCC’s fifth assessment a number of headlines suggested that the report would reveal dire predictions about human displacement and migration. The headlines suggested that millions of people could be on the move.

With the report now released we can make an assessment of what the authors have concluded. In fact, their findings are far more interesting than the media predictions. The IPCC have actually suggested that migration could provide a way for some people to escape the worst impacts of climate change. And that migration could help prevent people being forced to move later on. The authors state that:

“Expanding opportunities for mobility can reduce vulnerability for such populations. Changes in migration patterns can be responses to both extreme weather events and longer-term climate variability and change, and migration can also be an effective adaptation strategy.”


This conclusion should not come as a surprise. For several years a number of researchers have been pointing to migration as a way of moving out of harm’s way when faced with climate impacts. Similarly a number of researchers have been pointing out that migrating in advance of severe climate change impacts, may be preferable to waiting and then being forcibly displaced by the impacts later.

This does mark a change from the IPCC’s last report where they made a much simpler connection between climate impacts and migration. The current report also emphasises the difficulty in predicting actual numbers of people who might move as a result of climate change. The current report argues that:

“There is low confidence in quantitative projections of changes in mobility, due to its complex, multi-causal nature.”


Cover image: World Bank, Creative Commons on Flickr.

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