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Climate change kicked off a new Great Migration

Climate change kicked off a new Great Migration 1

If you think that the effects of climate change will not come soon, you will be disappointed. Numerous scientific studies show that global warming will lead to devastating consequences, including the movement of people around the planet on an unprecedented, destabilizing scale. Thus, droughts, floods, bankruptcy and famine are already forcing people to leave their homes. 

The situation is such that environmental hazards affect populations across the planet and – under certain conditions – can stimulate migration. The most important factors are temperature changes, variability in precipitation, and rapid-onset natural disasters such as tropical storms, according to a study by researchers at the Postdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK).

The findings allow researchers to identify geographic regions that may be particularly susceptible to future migration movements. Has the Great Nations Migration really begun?

Migration of peoples

The history of mankind is approximately 2.4 million years old. However, according to a 2015 study, a bone fragment found in Ethiopia in 2013 suggests that humanity is several hundred thousand years older. As the authors of the work, published in the journal Science, write, the genus of primates of the hominid family existed on Earth 2.8 million years ago.

It is important to understand that over the entire period of its existence, human populations have regularly migrated. So, the first to leave Africa and populate Eurasia was Homo erectus (Homo erectus), whose migrations began about 2 million years ago. It was followed by the expansion of Homo sapiens and its close relatives: Neanderthals and Denisovans. A modern man came to the Middle East about 80 thousand years ago.

Today, migration is called any territorial movement of the population associated with the crossing of both external and internal borders in order to change their permanent residence or temporary stay in the territory for study or work, regardless of the factors that contribute to resettlement.

Climate change kicked off a new Great Migration 2
The relentless impact of drought, floods, bankruptcy and famine are forcing people to leave their homes.


Ecological migration is most pronounced in middle-income countries, as well as in countries with developed agriculture. “Environmental factors can stimulate migration, but the magnitude of the impact depends on the specific economic and socio-political conditions in the countries,” writes the lead author of the new study, Roman Hoffmann.

In both low- and high-income countries, the environmental impact on migration is weaker. Presumably because either people are too poor to leave, or in rich countries people have enough financial resources to cope with the consequences. It is in the regions with average incomes and dependence on agriculture that strong waves of population migration are observed.

A large-scale meta-analysis, the results of which are published in the journal Nature Climate Change, revealed a number of interesting patterns. It turned out that the impact on migration depends on the types of environmental hazards and that different hazards can mutually reinforce each other. While temperature changes in the region have the greatest impact on migration, fast-onset natural disasters, changing precipitation variability and anomalies can also play a role.

Brave new world

As the authors of the meta-analysis emphasize, ecological migration always depends on a number of economic and socio-political factors. The story of climate refugees heading for Europe or the US can be oversimplified. For example, researchers have found strong evidence that environmental change in vulnerable countries mainly leads to internal migration or migration to other low- and middle-income countries, rather than cross-border migration to high-income countries. Affected populations often migrate to locations in their own region and eventually return to their homes within a relatively short period of time.

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Climate change kicked off a new Great Migration 3
Burgundy marks the regions in which the largest increase in migration is observed; Regions of international population migration are marked in red; Regions of traditional growth of migrants are marked in yellow. 

The results of the study also point to regions that are highly vulnerable to climate change, in which ecological migration may be especially widespread. The authors of the work note that the population of Latin America and the Caribbean, several countries in sub-Saharan Africa, especially in the Sahel region and East Africa, and Western, South and Southeast Asia are particularly at risk.

Given the expected increase in global average temperature, researchers believe that the topic of environmental migration will begin to attract more attention in the future. The best way to protect those affected is to stabilize the global climate, namely to rapidly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from burning fossil fuels. While migration can be an effective adaptation strategy for households, it can be involuntary and accompanied by human suffering. However, the most important conclusion of this meta-analysis, in my opinion, is the fact that forced climatic migrations of large population groups can be avoided.

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