MECLEP Infographics on Migration as Adaptation to Environmental and Climate Change

The degradation of the ecosystem and natural disasters are key drivers of migration and displacement. Different factors determine the level of success of mobility, mostly internal but also international, as an adaptation strategy in the face of adverse impacts of environmental and climate change. Among those factors, some of the most salient are: the quality and the quantity of economic, social and geographical resources available for migrating, the level of vulnerability at the place of origin and of the community left behind, the political and economic situation of the host country and the type of policies that regulate mobility. 

The following five infographics aim to contribute to the global knowledge base on the relationship between migration and environmental change by outlining the role played by these factors in influencing more or less positive outcomes in the life of those who have been facing particularly problematic and detrimental environmental situations.

The infographics are designed to visually present the issue and to help a better understanding of some of the key challenges as well as some of the opportunities for adaptation to environmental change through migration-related measures. This is especially important in view of the forthcoming 21st Conference of the Parties (COP21) of the United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change Conference held in Paris in December 2015.

These infographics are funded by the European Union and created under the Migration, Environment and Climate Change: Evidence for Policy (MECLEP) project, in collaboration with IOM – Sciences Po project on the Atlas of Environmental MigrationSome of the infographics will be featured in the forthcoming publication (Presses de Sciences Po/Routledge). 


INFOGRAPHIC 1- 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 sudden-onset 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, 10, IOM, Geneva.


INFOGRAPHIC 2- Migration and environmental change: vulnerability and resilience scenarios



In light of environmental degradation and the adverse effects of climate change, people's vulnerability can increase or decrease in relation to the response and adaptation strategies that people and governments adopt, and the economic and social factors that condition them. The infographic below proposes three non-exhaustive scenarios:   

Scenario 1: Successful and supportive labour migration policies, economic incentives and opportunities mixed with sufficient household or individual assets allow people to migrate (safely) and to find good working conditions away from home. In this scenario, environmental migrants may engage in temporary migration for work or education, and send remittances back to their family and community, thus contributing to a successful long term in-situ adaptation in the place of origin. Others may settle successfully in a new location and decide to not return ‘home`. By proactively taking adaptation measures, the community becomes more resilient to environmental and climate change in the long term. 

Scenario 2: This scenario concerns households and communities with fewer economic and social resources, more limited policy support, and fewer in-situ adaptation and livelihood diversification strategies. These households are still able to resort to seasonal migration in order to diversify their revenues, and to foster in-situ short to medium-term coping strategies. As some coping strategies are in place, the vulnerability of the community eventually tends to decrease in the graph, however this is not always guaranteed, and in the longer-term the vulnerability level may increase.

Scenario 3: The lack of economic and social resources and the absence of supportive policies do not allow households to use migration to improve livelihoods or reduce exposure to hazards, and options for short-term or minimal in-situ coping initiatives are almost non-existent. The community remains “trapped” (Black et al., 2011) within the detrimental consequences of environmental degradation, unable to adapt, and its existence is reduced to mere survival strategies. Some people may engage in short-term proximity migration as a survival strategy to find work to buy food for their families, but do not manage to improve their situation in the long term. In the case of disaster-induced displacement, inability to return home due to persisting risks, and inability to resettle in an alternative place due to the lack of means, absence of supportive policies, or absence of alternative options, may result in protracted displacement. In all cases, the level of vulnerability of the community and households tends to increase in this scenario, which is often related to natural and man-made disasters (e.g. flood, storm, earthquake), or to extremely severe degradation of resources.


Black, R. et al. 
2011     Foresight: Migration and global environmental change, Final Project Report. The Government Office for Science, London.

Warner, K., et al. 
2012       Where the Rain Falls: Climate Change, Food and Livelihood Security, and Migration, Global Policy report. CARE and UNU-EHS, Bonn.


INFOGRAPHIC 3- Trapped populations


Whether people migrate or not, as a response to the adverse impacts of climate and environmental change, depends mainly on people’s perception of three factors: the need, the desire and the ability to migrate. When people do not feel the need or the desire to leave their home despite the problematic circumstances they are facing, immobility does not necessarily imply negative consequences, for instance when a community has enough resources to adapt in- situ. On the contrary, when people feel the need and the desire to migrate but do not have the possibility to do so, they can become “trapped” (Black et al., 2011) in hazardous circumstances. When individuals or communities face acute environmental stress (sudden-onset events) or slow-onset processes such as natural resource depletion, sea-level rise, land degradation, desertification, drought, reduced water availability and groundwater salinization and decreased crop yield among others which affect their livelihoods, migration can be one of the most efficient strategies to limit exposure to hazards and to reduce vulnerability and poverty by securing alternative livelihoods in safer and more economically viable areas. Yet, many people, particularly those already vulnerable due to existing economic, political or demographic factors, may be unable to migrate due to insufficient means, health or physical disabilities, absence of networks of support, social exclusion, limited political rights, conflict, or geographic isolation. In the absence of appropriate supportive policies and measures, these "trapped" communities (Black et al., 2011) become increasingly vulnerable with time, as the adverse impacts of environmental change continue to undermine their livelihoods.


Black, R. et al. 
2011     Foresight: Migration and global environmental change, Final Project Report. The Government Office for Science, London.


INFOGRAPHIC 4- Moving as Adaptation


This infographic outlines the opportunities and the social and economic costs which migrants and communities back home face, which determine the success of moving as adaptation. For those who leave, migration can open many opportunities in terms of income diversification, access to more stable and better-paid jobs or to education. Migration can help develop new networks, gain new competences or diversify skills, such as language or technical skills, and benefit from exposure to new cultures and different ways of thinking. Migration empowers people and their families and communities, who are able to benefit from new skills and knowledge gained through the migration experience. Migration can modify gender roles and empower women who gain increased decision-making power in the household and in the community when men are away, or who achieve economic independence through migration. For those who stay, migration of relatives can help diversify incomes and contribute to local development and improvement of living conditions through remittances and skills transfers, or diasporas' investments, which in turn can reinforce local resilience to environmental stress.

Yet, migration can also be a painful experience, as it usually begins with a disruption of social ties, habits and lifestyle. Migration is expensive, and often requires selling key assets, spending hard-earned savings, or taking loans, which need to be repaid. The migration process itself can be associated with many physical risks, particularly in the absence of safe legal channels for migration, which can encourage people to resort to the help of traffickers. Oftentimes, the conditions that migrants, particularly those with fewer means, face in the areas of destination are very poor, and do not meet basic standards. Migrants are thus often exposed to poverty, and may end up living in insecure, hazard-prone areas. Migrants are not always welcome in the areas of destination: xenophobia and discrimination can lead to isolation, and hard working and living conditions may result in severe health and psychological problems, and increased emotional and physical vulnerability. For those who are left behind, out-migration can also be synonymous with brain-drain, increased insecurity, and disruption of social and family ties.

Several factors play a role in determining whether migration as an adaptation strategy to climate and environmental change will have positive or negative outcomes. In the case of both international and internal migration, adequate migration laws and policies that facilitate migration as adaptation and protect human rights, favorable working conditions and economic incentives in the areas of destination as well as organized social networks of support are some of the most influential factors in determining the success of migratory processes. On the contrary, restrictive immigration laws, inadequate infrastructures and welfare systems, lack of support away from home and poor working conditions can translate into great social and economic costs both for migrants and for their family and community. 


2014      Outlook on Migration, Development and Climate Change. International Organization for Migration (IOM), Geneva.

Masika, R.
2002      Editorial. Gender and Development, 10(2):2–9.

Jolly, S. and H. Reeves 
2005      Gender and Migration, Overview Report. BRIDGE Development – Gender, Institute of Development Studies, University of Sussex, Brighton. 

Warner, K. et al.
2014      Integrating Human Mobility Issues within National Adaptation Plans. Policy Brief No. 9, United Nations University Institute of Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), Bonn.


INFOGRAPHIC 5- Remittances and potential for adaptation


Remittances, that is money sent home by internal or international migrants, could potentially become an important tool for poverty reduction and increased resilience both for a single family and an entire community that is suffering the consequences of environmental and climate change.

Evidence in the literature (among others, see: Adger et al. (2002), Agarwal & Horowitz (2002), Bendandi and Pauw (to be published), Deshingkar (2011), Lucas & Stark (1985), Scheffran et al. (2012)) shows how an internal or international migrant that is able to send money back home regularly can greatly contribute to the recipient’s household income and fund basic living needs such as food, housing and consumer goods. If substantial enough, a stable revenue can simplify financial planning, possibly enabling investments in different sectors: investments in education can increase the cultural capital of family members back home; investments in work tools and land can give them work and produce further income. This process can be severely hampered if remittances services are inefficient (e.g. if the cost of remittances services is too high or if it lacks transparency); for this reason, reliability and affordability as well as speed and security, regulations and control are essential conditions to ensure a convenient and efficient transaction.

In line with this logic, migrants that are able to send regularly remittances back home could become central actors in helping out and supporting their community of origin in facing the consequences of climate change. Indeed, remittances could increase the resilience of one or more households by providing immediate relief during droughts or floods or by supporting local long term projects and investments for climate change adaptation and disaster preparedness (e.g. matching funds, climate insurance, and market instruments). In this sense, senders could play a very important role in laying the foundations for a prosperous future for themselves, their family and their community. Of course, such plans would require government support, attractive investment conditions, rights and economic opportunities as well as international technical and financial support (including development assistance and climate funds). 



Adger, W. N. et al.
2002    Migration, remittances, livelihood trajectories, and social resiliance. Jorunal of the Human Environment, 31(4):358-366.

Agarwal, R. and A.W. Horowitz
2002    Are International Remittances Altruism or Insurance? Evidence from Guyana Using Multiple-Migrant Households. World Development, 30, pp.2033-44.

Bendandi, B. and B. Pauw
(to be published)    Remittances for adaptation: an 'alternative' source of climate finance? In IOM-UNU-GDI book project Migration, risk management and climate change: evidence and policy responses. Elsevier.

Deshingkar, P. 
2011    SR13: Are there examples of remittances being used to build local resilience to environmental change, especially through investment in soil and water conservation, or broader agriculture? Project Report.UK Government Office of Science, London.

Lucas, R. and O. Stark
1985    Motivations to Remit: Evidence from Botswana. Journal of Political Eonomy, 93(5):901-918.

Scheffran, J. et al.
2012    Migration as a contribution to resiliance and innovation in climate adaptation: Social networks and co-development in Northwest Africa. Applied Geography, 33:119-127.

2009    Overcoming barriers: Human Mobility and Development Report. UNDP, New York.