Climate Change
and Migration

Human Mobility in the
Context of Climate Change


The impact of the adverse effects of climate change on human mobility is widely recognised and has gained increasing political interest. Understanding and anticipating the scale and patterns of people’s movements enables governments and development partners to plan and prepare accordingly. Nevertheless, a large evidence gap exists when it comes to explaining exactly how, when and why climate-induced mobility will take place, and robust projections of climate migration over large areas are rare. Existing methodologies have often not been able to account for the complexity of the issue and faced various limitations.

One of the most recent attempts to fill this data gap was conducted by the World Bank with its Groundswell Report, which focuses on slow-onset climate change and internal migration across three main regions (sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America). This report has pioneered the introduction of slow-onset climate impacts into a model of future population distribution. To address the uncertainties of analysing migration up to 2050, the report considers three potential climate and development scenarios, based on two development pathways (moderate development or unequal development) and two climate trajectories (low emissions or high emissions). The model then applies demographic, socio-economic and climate impact data at grid cell level to model likely shifts in population within countries. The estimates of climate migrants under each of the three climate impact scenarios are derived by comparing population distributions that incorporate climate impact with scenarios based solely on development trajectories.

The model can be customised and expanded on different scales, and new research building on the Groundswell method is already being conducted. For example, the GIZ Global Programme on Human Mobility in the Context of Climate Change (GP HMCCC) supports the World Bank on more precise regional modelling in West and East Africa. Future work could modify and extend the models to more regions, more climate scenarios, and longer time spans, but also to more local levels.

In addition to a global approach to climate migration modelling, addressing local data needs is equally important. In many countries and regions, there is currently very little data and research on internal migration available, and much less on climate-driven mobility. In the Philippines, the GP HMCCC aims to develop information and resources on climate-induced human mobility, identify existing knowledge and close subject-related gaps, e.g. through capacity building and knowledge generation and transfer, to support national and local government officials in understanding climate risk-related and slow-onset climate change-induced internal migration.

A qualitative study is being conducted to determine how climate change-induced risks and slow-onset events affect migration perceptions, decisions and aspirations of identified households and communities in various provinces in the Philippines. The study aims to answer questions related to causality, to migration impacts in the destination areas and at the places of origin. To what extent does climate change, especially slow-onset events, contribute to migration decisions? What effects does migration have on the places of origin, especially on the households of the migrants and their social and community relations? The results of the study will inform national and local government officials and decision-makers to improve their understanding of the complex issue of climate-induced migration in the Philippines and to develop proper policies accordingly.

It is likely that with the escalating impacts of climate change, many island and coastal areas may become practically inhabitable, e.g. if rising sea levels lead to flooding and people are forced to abandon their homes and relocate elsewhere for safety and sustained livelihoods. As such, planned relocation will be a last resort measure for vulnerable communities and, consequently, proper policies governing planned relocation are crucial.

At the COP 24 in Katowice, the small island state Fiji launched its Planned Relocation Guidelines (PRGs) to govern relocation processes in the country – the first ever to be developed by a Pacific Island country. The PRGs demonstrate the commitment of the Fijian Government to effectively address climate change relocation in the country. The Guidelines were built on strategies that aim to reduce the vulnerability of people and build community resilience. They provide guidance to all actors involved in planned relocation processes caused by climate change and disasters in Fiji.

In 2019, Fiji additionally developed Displacement Guidelines aimed to reduce the vulnerabilities associated with displacement in the context of climate change and consider durable solutions to prevent and minimise the drivers of displacement in affected communities in Fiji. In 2012, members of Tukuraki Village on Viti Levu, Fiji’s largest island, were displaced to neighbouring communities after a landslide occurred within their village. The people of Tukuraki remained displaced until they were permanently relocated to a new site with state and non-state assistance. The experience and lessons learned from displaced communities in Fiji, coupled with the latest policy and scientific findings, are the foundation and basis of the Displacement Guidelines.

Both sets of guidelines are not standalone documents, but are aligned with the provisions of Fiji’s 5-Year & 20-Year National Development Plans, Fiji’s National Adaptation Plan, the National Climate Change Policy and other relevant national, regional and international frameworks, such as the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Existing research on the nexus between gender and climate-induced migration shows that gender influences human mobility and vice versa. For example, gender-based division of labour within a household will most likely determine who will migrate and who will stay at home, leading to gender-differentiated outcomes. Furthermore, these impacts are compounded by interaction with other socio-cultural factors. At the same time, human mobility influences gender dynamics just as much by entrenching traditional gender roles and existing inequalities or by challenging and changing them. A gendered perspective on migration and climate change is thus crucial to understand how people on the move face different challenges and risks and are confronted with different opportunities during mobility. While women and girls are often disproportionately affected, it has to be noted that gender dynamics generate opportunities as well as challenges for all different genders.

The GIZ Global Programme Human Mobility in the Context of Climate Change (GP HMCCC) has acknowledged the importance of applying a gender lens to climate migration and has published a Compendium on Human Mobility, Climate Change and Gender, which provides best practices, lessons learned and tools for Pacific practitioners working in national governments, non-governmental organisations and regional or international organisations to integrate gender into all aspects of policy, programming and project work on climate-induced migration. The compendium was developed as an additional module of the Pacific Gender & Climate Change Toolkit, but can also be used as a standalone tool.

The document introduces several case studies from Pacific Island states including best practices and lessons learned. In Kiribati, a low-lying atoll nation, the majority of households have been affected by climate impacts, such as sea level rise, saline intrusion, droughts and floods, over the past years. As a result, many people, especially from the outer islands, have moved to the island of South Tawara, which is home to about fifty percent of the country’s population. Of the inhabitants still remaining on the outer islands, often referred to as ‘trapped populations’, many have not migrated due to a lack of resources. Applying a gender lens to this situation shows that men are more likely than women to leave their communities. Men are usually the ones deciding on whether women should move or not. Additionally, they have greater access to alternative income opportunities such as ‘seafaring’, which is a major form of employment in Kiribati. Access to such labour mobility options for women is limited. When men leave their household, women are often left to shoulder the burden of caregiving and other household responsibilities and struggle to fulfil both traditional male and female roles. This also includes roles associated with disaster preparedness, response and recovery. Drawing from this case study, lessons learned and recommendations include the need to develop targeted information campaigns on available labour mobility schemes for disadvantaged groups and to support these groups (e.g. through training) to meet eligibility criteria. Additionally, it has to be ensured that male and female representatives of a household are included in disaster preparedness, response and recovery training and are equally prepared to take action in the event of a disaster.

On behalf of BMZ, the GIZ Global Programme Human Mobility in the Context of Climate Change (GP HMCCC) is working to support its partners to address and better understand the complex, multi-causal interrelations between different forms of human mobility and climate change, especially in small atoll and island states in the Pacific and Caribbean regions as well as in the Philippines. The GP HMCCC approach includes capacity development by conducting training courses and workshops on climate change-induced migration. Knowledge is generated and transferred by reviewing existing information, identifying gaps and promoting research on climate-induced human mobility and assisting in systematising and implementing existing and generated knowledge in databases and information systems. In collaboration with national and regional partners, non-governmental organisations and universities, the GP HMCCC also promotes exchange between all involved actors.

In June 2019, a week-long delegation visit to Germany brought together stakeholders from the Caribbean, the Pacific and the Philippines with similar experiences in managing human mobility in the context of climate change. The meeting enabled knowledge exchange and peer-to-peer learning and facilitated the establishment of working relationships. Focus topics of the delegation visit included migration/displacement/relocation, human security, gender and digitalisation. Furthermore, it provided a space to network with actors working on the nexus of climate change and human mobility within the German and Germany-based international community.

Following the delegation visit, an International Conference and Networking Event on Climate and Environmental Change and Human Mobility took place on 28 June 2019 in Bonn. It was hosted by the GP HMCCC, commissioned by BMZ and the research project on Environmental Degradation, Climate Change and Migration: Global Review of Research and Forecasts, financed by the German Federal Ministry for the Environment (BMU) and the German Environment Agency (UBA), and implemented by adelphi and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). The conference brought together more than 90 participants, including representatives of governments, international organisations, universities, research institutions and NGOs, as well as practitioners working in the field of climate change and human mobility. The conference aimed to identify and address knowledge gaps related to climate-induced human mobility, to establish networks between the participants from different regions as well as international experts, and to provide the basis for future mutual learning processes. It featured panel discussions, breakout working groups (on climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction management, migration policy, and digitalisation and information technology), a photography exhibition and a ‘marketplace of ideas’.