It is widely recognized that climate change has the potential to create mass migration as thousands or millions of people move to avoid the worst ravages of changes in the climate and sea level rises.
The World Bank policy paper described below proposes a number of policy strategies designed to enhance the prospects of the migrants and the communities they enter. In general, the perspective is economic, in the sense that the policies are designed to maximize the number of potential locations to which the individuals may migrate (i.e., their choices) and, hence, facilitate them making efficient decisions that will maximize their gains from the move.
While this is an interesting perspective, it seems to me to underestimate and/or miss several key points. First, I am not convinced that the risk of violent conflict is minimal. If the aim is to maximize the options available to migrants, it seems odd to downplay what is likely to be one of the most significant constraints on their choices. Second, whether you compare countries (Laos vs. Thailand or Vietnam) or regions within countries (coastal China vs inland China) it is clear that one of the major keys to economic growth during the period of globalization was having access to the ocean (i.e., to cheap transportation routes). Even if one presumes that the era of globalization is coming to an end and development will take a different form in the future, it is likely that access to the ocean will continue to be a benefit. As such, the report fails to come to grips with the geographic character of the likely migration, i.e. that much of the migration will be out of areas affected by sea level rise.
Accommodating Migration to Promote Adaptation to Climate Change [PDF]
Jon R. Barnett
World Bank Policy Research Working Paper No. 5270
This paper explains how climate change may increase future migration, and which risks are associated with such migration. It also examines how some of this migration may enhance the capacity of communities to adapt to climate change. Climate change is likely to result in some increase above baseline rates of migration in the next 40 years. Most of this migration will occur within developing countries. There is little reason to think that such migration will increase the risk of violent conflict. Not all movements in response to climate change will have negative outcomes for the people that move, or the places they come from and go to. Migration, a proven development strategy, can increase the capacity of communities to adapt to climate change. The fewer choices people have about moving, however, the less likely it is that the outcomes of that movement will be positive. Involuntary resettlement should be a last resort. Many of the most dire risks arising from climate-motivated migration can be avoided through careful policy. Policy responses to minimize the risks associated with migration in response to climate change, and to maximize migration's contribution to adaptive capacity include: ensuring that migrants have the same rights and opportunities as host communities; reducing the costs of moving money and people between areas of origin and destination; facilitating mutual understanding among migrants and host communities; clarifying property rights where they are contested; ensuring that efforts to assist migrants include host communities; and strengthening regional and international emergency response systems.
Keywords: Population Policies, Climate Change Mitigation and Green House Gases, Health Monitoring & Evaluation, Climate Change Economics, Voluntary and Involuntary Resettlement