Myths About Climate-Induced Migration

“Forecasts of the number of persons having to move due to climate change and environmental degradation by 2050 vary by a factor 40 (between 25 million and 1 billion) and largely depend on which of the climate scenarios will materialize.  While the exact magnitude may be uncertain, the actual impact on people is not.” (International Organization for Migration)

The climatic events expected to affect migration are rapid-onset events such as tropical cyclones and floods and slow-onset events such as droughts and sea-level riseSeveral myths have been manufactured regarding population movements and climate change.  The following are some common misconceptions:

“Climate change will force people to mass-migrate to developed countries “. International migration is an expensive endevour that requires forms of capital and people and is, therefore, very much conditioned by socio-economic status. It accounts, even with climate change, for a very small proportion of all population movements.

“The combination of resource scarcity and population growth will trigger population movements”There is a say in Spain: better an image than a thousand words.  

melill borerBorder between Europe and Africa, in the Spanish colonized-territory of Melilla. Photo taken December 2014.

While the original African lands of the migrants on top of the fence in the photograph may be drying up and their livelihoods be lost, estimates indicate that an 18-hole golf course such as the one we see here consumes from 3.000 to 5.000 cubic meters of water per day, which is enough to meet the daily water consumption needs of 2.000 (Western) families.  Worldwide, 9.5 million cubic meters of water are used daily to irrigate over 25.000 golf courses around the world, most of them in the USA. This equals the quantity of water that would be needed, according to WorldWatch Institute, to support 4.7 billion people at the United Nations daily minimum water requirement, or over four-fifths of the world`s estimated 2005 population. It has to be added that chemical use at golf courses annually equals seven times the amount used by large-scale agriculture. The golf industry has grown exponentially during the last decades to provide for a small, selected minority.  It is time to question and re-evaluate the usefulness of concepts such as resource scarcity and population growth when exploring migration patterns related to climate change.

 In truth, those experiencing impacts of environmental change may even see their incomes and assets reduced, enabling them to move from the risk areas. According to the Foresight Report, millions of people will be unable to move away from locations in which they are extremely vulnerable to environmental change. Research shows that, indeed, mobility will increase.  However, most of the population movements induced by climate change are likely to be in the global South, short-distance and short-term, within national boundaries or to nearby countries, including to areas of environmental risk. It is only in the case of small island states where people will be forced across international borders.


Documents you may like to check:

Foresight Report

A Global Perspective on the Environmental Impact of Golf

Climate Change and Migration in Bangladesh

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