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In Search of Shelter: Mapping the Effects of Climate Change on Human Migration and Displacement

This report maps the effects of climate change on human migration and displacement as well as key findings and policy recommendations.

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Executive Summary

The impacts of climate change are already causing migration and displacement. Although the exact number of people that will be on the move by mid-century is uncertain, the scope and scale could vastly exceed anything that has occurred before. People in the least developed countries and island states will be affected first and worst.

The consequences for almost all aspects of development and human security could be devastating. There may also be substantial implications for political stability.

Most people will seek shelter in their own countries while others cross borders in search of better odds. Some displacement and migration may be prevented through the implementation of adaptation measures. However, poorer countries are underequipped to support widespread adaptation. As a result, societies affected by climate change may find themselves locked into a downward spiral of ecological degradation, towards the bottom of which social safety nets collapse while tensions and violence rise. In this all-too-plausible worst-case scenario, large populations would be forced to migrate as a matter of immediate survival.

Climate-related migration and displacement can be successfully addressed only if they are seen as global processes rather than local crises. The principle of common but differentiated responsibilities—both in terms of minimizing displacement and supporting unavoidable migration—must, therefore, underlie policy negotiations and subsequent outcomes. The burden of assisting and protecting displaced populations cannot be allowed to fall on the shoulders of most affected states alone.

Nature and purpose of this report

This report explores how environmental shocks and stresses, especially those related to climate change, can push people to leave their homes in search of “greener pastures” … or just to survive. In order to make informed decisions, policymakers and development actors need a better understanding of the linkages between environmental change, displacement and migration. This report, therefore, offers:

  • Empirical evidence from a first-time, multi-continent survey of environmental change and migration;
  • Original maps illustrating how, and where, the impacts of climate change may prompt significant displacement and migration;
  • Policy recommendations that reflect the collective thinking of key multi-lateral and research institutions, as well as nongovernmental organizations working directly with many of the world’s most vulnerable populations.

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