Climate change and migration in developing countries: evidence and implications for PRISE countries

Maria Waldinger, Sam Fankhauser
Centre for Climate Change Economics and Policy (CCCEP)
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Burkina Faso
Tanzania (United Republic of)
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This paper informs the development community about the effects of climate change on migration patterns within and out of developing countries. It concentrates on the economic aspects of migration and on information that is relevant for the six semi-arid countries that are the focus of the PRISE (Pathways to Resilience in Semi-Arid Economies) project: Burkina Faso, Senegal, Kenya, Tanzania, Pakistan and Tajikistan. The insights are drawn from a broader review of the evidence by Waldinger (2015). The empirical evidence shows that people in developing countries are likely to respond to climatic change by migrating internally. There is less evidence on the relationship between climate change and international migration. The effect of climate change on migration depends crucially on socio-economic, political, and institutional conditions. These conditions affect both vulnerability to climate change and how important climate change is in determining migration decisions. People working in the agricultural sector are particularly affected by short-term climate shocks (droughts, flooding etc.) and longterm climate change. There is evidence of this from Tanzania and many other countries (CCCS 2014). Their vulnerability, however, depends on their ability to adapt to these changes, for example through the use of new crop varieties, as well as through nonagricultural activities, such as consumption smoothing through access to credit, insurance and social safety nets. Migration has been a frequent response to climate variability and change in the past. There is strong evidence of this, for example in the Sahel region of West Africa (Scheffran et al., 2012a, 2012b). Migration might also be an effective response to the climate risks of the future, but only under certain preconditions. Access to information on the economic and social costs of migration, on the advantage and disadvantages of potential destination locations, and the absence of credit constraints can help potential migrants make decisions that will improve their livelihoods. The economy of Tajikistan, for example, is benefitting from the remittances of migrant workers abroad (World Bank, 2014). Policy intervention is required to reduce potential negative impacts in both the sending and receiving region. Badly managed migration is associated with high economic, social and psychological costs. Nor will climate risks at the destination necessarily be lower, as the example of Senegal shows (Foresight, 2011). Planned, proactive migration may be a necessary and effective response to climate risks. Uncoordinated distress migration is a sign of adaptation failure. To ensure effective migration choices and a good management of the wider socio-economic effects, policy-makers should: • Provide sufficient information about the costs and benefits of migrating, including psychological and social, along with more clarity about alternative adaptation options. • Release credit constraints, present in all PRISE countries and in particular in Senegal and Tajikistan, to offset the up-front costs incurred by potential migrants, particularly high in areas with poor transportation infrastructure. • Improve institutional quality to ensure the incentives to migrate are not reduced, in particular in the context of land tenure security when people are not able to sell their land or are not confident of reclaiming it upon return. • Define the legal status of environmental migrants, for example, through a process led by the UN or UNHCR, in order to give people certainty about their legal situation. • Put in place safeguards against distress migration, for example in the event of conflict, which can force people to choose sub-optimal migration strategies, leading to maladaptation. • Support the areas affected by outward migration by promoting links between migrants and their region of origin; “managed retreat” from severely affected regions may be a last resort if they become inhospitable. • Support the absorptive capacity of the receiving jurisdictions, in particular urban labour markets and public services, to manage the socio-economic implications of the arrival of migrants in a new destination. • Direct migrants away from environmentally vulnerable areas where they move to for different reasons, as is the case in Senegal where more than 40 per cent of new migrant populations are located in high risk flood zones.