A new World Bank report has found that by 2050 the worsening impacts of climate change in three densely populated regions of the world could see more than 140 million people move within their countries’ borders.
According to the Groundswell report: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration (2018), with concerted action, however, including global efforts to cut greenhouse gas emissions and robust development planning at the country level – this worst-case scenario could be dramatically reduced, by as much as 80 percent, or 100 million people.
The report identifies “hotspots” of climate in- and out-migration, these include climate-vulnerable areas from which people are expected to move, and locations into which people will try to move to build new lives and livelihoods
The report projects that by 2050, without concrete climate and development action, just over 143 million people, or around three percent of the population across Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia, could be forced to move within their own countries to escape the slow-onset impacts of climate change.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, “internal climate migrants” could number over 85 million, representing up to four percent of the region’s total population. Climate migrants will move from less viable areas with lower water availability and crop productivity and from areas affected by rising sea level and storm surges. The poorest and most climate-vulnerable areas will be hardest hit.
These trends, alongside the emergence of “hotspots” of climate in- and out-migration, will have major implications for climate-sensitive sectors and for the adequacy of urban infrastructure and social support systems in both rural and urban areas. While some climate migration cannot be avoided due to the lock-in of climate effects of past emissions, the report results also indicate that future trajectories of climate migration are not set in stone.
Climate migration in Sub-Saharan Africa can have substantial development implications and the stakes are high. Achieving a resilient society, where people can either adapt in place and thrive or migrate with dignity toward areas of higher opportunity, is an important part of meeting national development goals.
Internal climate migration may be a reality but it doesn’t have to be a crisis. Concerted action on climate change mitigation and adaptation, together with inclusive development policies and embedding climate migration into policy and planning, could help to substantially reduce the number of internal climate migrants by 2050. Policy decisions made today will shape the extent to which the effects of climate change will be positive for migrants and their families. Inaction would mean missing a window of opportunity to reconfigure where, when, and how climate-resilient investments are made in support of robust economies.
Internal climate migration will increase in Sub-Saharan Africa under all three scenarios due to lower water availability and crop productivity alongside rising sea level and storm surges.
By 2050, the projected total number of potential internal climate migrants could be as high as 85.7 million or four percent of the region’s total population under the pessimistic reference scenario, more than in South Asia and Latin America (the other regions of focus in the Groundswell report). Two factors may be driving this. First, Sub-Saharan Africa is highly vulnerable to climate impacts, especially in already fragile drylands and along exposed coastlines. Second, the region’s agriculture sector, which employs a significant portion of the labor force, depends on rainfall for almost all its crop production.
Under the more inclusive development scenario, internal climate migrants number 53.3 million on average. In this scenario, challenges to adaptation and factors closely intertwined with migration, such as population growth and urbanization, play out more moderately. The more climate-friendly scenario has the fewest internal climate migrants with 28.3 million on average. Here, large gains in sustaining livelihoods that help people stay in place come from investing in stringent mitigation measures that reduce emissions globally, coupled with adaptation policies.