Published as an Op-Ed on Devex
The stories are stark and frequent. Climate refugees and environmental migrants are fleeing floods, droughts and rising temperatures. The World Bank predicts over 140 million people will migrate due to climate change by 2050. Governments are responding with bills to protect climate refugees.
Yes, the plight of the climate migrant is — increasingly — the tale we read today. And the story often ends with the conclusion that something needs to be done to “prevent” this movement. These narratives push the notion that moving from one’s community isn’t a natural human condition, but a worrisome new phenomenon in times of climate extremes. The result is often an over-simplistic perception of who these people are and why they’re moving.
Social and economic barriers still limit small farmers and provide barriers to sustainable intensification: producing more food with less land and environmental harm. So it’s hard to disentangle climate change from a host of other stresses and trends. Resource scarcity, population growth, changing youth aspirations, market forces — and inequalities within and between locations — are other major factors. In short, decisions to move from home areas are invariably complex, as is the relationship between migration and development.
Drawing simple conclusions is a fool’s errand. Governments blame climate stress for out-migration instead of factors like a weak economy, declining employment opportunities, or inadequate education systems churning out people with low levels of employability.
So how can we shift to a more “positive migration” policy program?