Greater climate change signature on human migration and displacement

By Felix Kwabena Donkor

Although economic and political elements are the key drivers of displacement and migration today, climate change is also having a palpable effect. Some households and communities unable to cope with the overwhelming effects of climatic change impacts have been forced to leave their homes in search of new beginnings.  Such conscious moves to ”greener pastures” translate into population displacement induced by climate change.


The collapse of ecosystem-dependent livelihoods is expected to continue, fuelling migration during the coming decades. This is likely to be exacerbated by the increased frequency, intensity and impact of other natural disasters as population levels rise and more people make their homes in risk-prone areas such as the coastal lowlands adjoining port cities.  There is therefore a need to assist vulnerable populations to develop climate-resilient livelihoods that can withstand environmental shocks and stresses.

Currently the most vulnerable are more often in rural than urban areas, but it is anticipated that by 2050 when world population is projected to reach about 9.6 billion, most people will be living in urban areas with the attendant high environmental footprint. Projections of the number of migrants go as high as 700 million people by 2050, with potentially 200 million of these being environmental refugees.  It is such scenarios that inform projections that climate change will become the biggest driver of population displacements, both within and across national borders, in the not too distant future.

Countries in both the global South and North are already experiencing the ramifications of climatic deviations and population movements, and although the burden is heaviest on least developed countries and small island states, the lines between refugees are migrants are blurred.  This calls for novel legal instruments and policies that accommodate the linkages between environmental change, displacement and migration.

Investors are investigating the opportunities presented by climate change impacts, one example of which is reinsurance.  This is a way of protecting insurance companies from risk posed by large-scale events such as natural disasters, including floods, earthquakes and forest fires. Insurance companies share risk by purchasing insurance policies from other insurers, which limits the total loss the original insurer would experience in case of disaster.

However, no amount of insurance can replace lost lives, or destruction of livelihoods and ecosystems. This is especially important in sub-Saharan Africa where insurance schemes are more often a luxury or simply a mirage.  The political actions that follow on the Paris agreement could have a more significant, and a less oppressive impact on migration than more stringent border controls.

The decision text of the Paris Agreement requested that a task force be established to develop recommendations for “integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change”.  The preamble to the Agreement also states that parties to the convention should respect the rights of migrants.