Climate induced migration – Explained, pointwise

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Climate induced migration (both internal and external) is a stark testimony to the unsustainable global development model that we have followed for years. The climate change crisis is now forcing people to flee their homes across the world.

Migrants from Africa are risking their lives to cross the Mediterranean and get to Europe. Large numbers of people in South Asia are migrating within their nations, seeking a livelihood snatched away by global warming.

Hence, it is high time we address this challenge of climate induced migration.

What is Climate induced migration?

As per International Organization of Migration (IOM), climate-induced migration is referred to as,

the movement of a person or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment due to climate change, are obliged to leave their habitual place of residence, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, within a State or across an international border

Climate migration is thus a subcategory of environmental migration; it defines a singular type of environmental migration, where the change in the environment is due to climate change.

Note: As of now, there is no legal or internationally accepted definition of climate-induced migration. And it is a is a subtype of climate-induced movement.

Must Read: Types of climate induced movement
How climate change causes migration?

Climate change induces migration in the following ways:

  • The intensification of natural disasters.
  • Increased warming and drought that affects agricultural production and access to clean water
  • Rising sea levels make coastal areas uninhabitable and increase the number of sinking island states. (44% of the world’s population lives within 150 kilometers of the coast).
  • Competition over natural resources may lead to conflict and in turn migration.
Scale of climate induced migration
Global scenario
  • The World Economic Forum finds that between 2008 and 2016, extreme weather events forced over 20 million people each year to become climate refugees.
  • The World Bank estimates that by 2050, 1.2 billion people could become environmental refugees. Over 40 million climate migrants are expected in South Asia alone.
  • According to the UN, disasters and geophysical hazards have triggered an average 3.1 million displacements a year since 2008.
Scenario in India

India is very vulnerable to climate induced migration problem. It ranks 7th in the Global Climate Risks Index 2021.

  • There is now a much higher scale of migration from the hills, with entire ghost villages or empty habitations scattered across the Himalayas. According to 2011 census figures, of 16,793 villages in the state 1,053 have no inhabitants and 405 villages have less than 10 residents.
  • Due to Cyclone Phailin, which ravaged the coastal state of Odisha in 2013, the state witnessed an unprecedented scale of migration of fishing communities that had otherwise been based there for decades.
  • In 2018, environmental disasters caused over 2.7 million displacements.
  • 45 million, in India alone, will be forced to migrate from their homes due to climate disasters by 2050 in a business-as-usual scenario.
Must Read: Types of climate induced migration in India


  • Lack of a clear definition: There is a lack of clarity around definitions relating to human migration in the context of climate change. Moreover, migration can be induced by a complex interplay of multiple factors of which climate change may only be one of them.
  • Lack of resources: The UNHCR has thus far refused to grant these people refugee status, instead designating them as “environmental migrants,” in large part because it lacks the resources to address their needs.
  • Lack of data: A persistent lack of data is one of the primary challenges to measuring the relation between migration and the environment, while data collection on migration and the environment represents a challenge in itself.

For India

  • Poverty and size: The sheer size of the country and levels of poverty provide fertile grounds for climate-induced migration. A large majority of the country’s poor people live in rural areas, which are most prone to climate-driven shocks due to their low adaptive capacity.
  • Rising rural distress and the urban-centric nature of economic growth means migration is increasingly from rural to urban areas. Climate change will further push more people to move to cities.
  • The unplanned expansion of Indian cities makes them more susceptible to climate change’s effects. But the significance of rural-urban migration will rise in the future as agriculture-dependent livelihoods come under increasing climatic stress, and urban areas will continue to support the growing number of people.
  • Migrants lack representation and rights: Climate migrants often lack representation, residency rights, or social entitlements and hence find themselves clubbed into the category of illegal immigrants, with little or no effort made by the authorities to discern their motivation for migration.
  • Social conflict: Climate change is fuelling social conflicts — the UNHCR finds that 80% of displaced people worldwide live in areas with acute food insecurity. The desperation over existential resources is sharpening struggles.
  • Human trafficking: Displacement or rise in migration due to disasters has raised concerns on increasing human trafficking. For e.g.: The UN Environment Programme estimates that trafficking goes up by 20-30 percent during disasters. Incidences of human traffickers being arrested or tracked and girls being rescued spiked during or post-disaster in Indian states, particularly in Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh.
  • Risk of the complete disappearance of some Small Island Developing States (SIDS) due to sea-level rise opens new questions about the territorial sovereignty of these disappearing island States, as well as the human rights of islanders who could effectively become stateless.
  • Increased vulnerability: Large movements of people from areas affected by climate shocks and stresses into densely populated areas can also create new risks, like limited access to basic services and infrastructure, increased exposure to communicable and vector-borne diseases, etc.


  • Climate-resilient solutions: It is essential to invest in building local climate resilience and protecting community economies. Solutions like rooftop water harvesting, community ponds etc can work really well.
  • Funding and support: Most of the world’s unsustainable increase in global temperatures was produced by wealthy, industrialised countries in Europe and North America. There should be a large pool of funds from these advanced economies to support developing nations, facing the brunt of the climate crisis now.
  • Improving the migratory process: Research is needed to determine the best way to improve the migratory process itself—be it increasing migration monitors, providing safer modes of transport, and consolidating and expanding destination country integration resources.


We need to respond to this climate-induced migration through a pragmatic mix of climate action and more inclusive development policies.

  • In rural areas, this would involve supporting the livelihoods of people and strengthening social support systems, particularly for women, children, and Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe populations. We already have an extensive net of social security measures, including the PDS, NREGA, and the ICDS, which cater to different population segments.
  • We must invest in ecological infrastructure which safeguards local economic well-being. This can be achieved via MGNREGA scheme.
  • Public policy response requires creating more inclusive and resilient cities that provide poor migrants and their families with decent and dignified jobs, affordable housing, access to health and education, and improved water and sanitation facilities to help them deal with climate shocks and improve their lot.
    • Higher urbanisation, if properly managed, can generate greater economic prosperity and create more plural urban spaces and communities.
Must Read: International agreements on climate induced migration
Way forward

The world needs to act swiftly to develop an international framework dealing with climate-induced migration so that people forced to move because of climate change stay protected.

Source: TOI 1, TOI 2, TOI 3, TOI 4, DTE, The Diplomat

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