Ecosystem services: Relation to environmental change and impacts on mobility



Natural resources and ecosystems services provide very important benefits to human societies through the regulation of the planet and climate systems (climate and disease regulations and water purification) and the provision of crucial resources for survival (food, fresh water, raw material) and human cultural activities (e.g. aesthetic, spiritual, tourism services). Ecosystems are increasingly endangered by environmental events and processes such as hydrological hazards like floods and landslides, climatological hazards like droughts and forest fires, and weather and ecosystem changes. Some more concrete examples include: sea level rise and salt water intrusion might increasingly damage fresh water resources; similarly, heat waves and storms might translate into loss of agricultural land and thus decrease crop yield.

The depletion of ecosystem services due to these events and slow-onset processes might have direct consequences on different dimensions of human security both directly, for example through the depletion of consumption resources (e.g. food and water) and indirectly, e.g. through conflict over scarce natural resources. The degradation or loss of habitat and livelihoods due to desertification and land degradation, deforestation, or gradual depletion of vital resources contributes to food insecurity and poverty, and may push communities towards other rural areas or urban centers in search of alternative income.  The loss of crops might also progressively lead to malnutrition issues and even famine. Epidemics associated with unsafe drinking water might pose serious risks on public health, reducing the capacity of people to migrate. The degradation of cultural services in certain areas due to environmental degradation or destruction of cultural heritage following a disaster might result in a decline of tourism, leading in turn to job losses, and driving people out in search of alternative employment.

Such scenarios turn out to be key mobility drivers: people facing the detrimental consequences of climate change might move to look for more security, to meet their basic needs and thus protect their own life, the life of their family members and of their community. 

Millenium Ecosystem Assessment
2005    Ecosystems and Human Well-being. Island Press, Washington, DC. Available at

2014     Working Group II Contribution to the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report (AR5), Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Chapter 9: Rural Areas, Chapter 10: Key Economic Sectors and Services, and Chapter 12: Human Security, IPCC, Geneva. 

2008    Expert Seminar: Migration and the Environment, International Dialogue on Migration No. 10, IOM, Geneva.