Ethiopian nomads who have settled in a village in the Somali region of Ethiopia due to persistent drought.

Climate change and development Migration and climate

Climate change is threatening the livelihoods of many people. In some places it is becoming so hard to get by that people are forced to leave their homes. They then move from their villages into the city, for example. Besides poverty and a lack of prospects, further drivers of migration and forced displacement that are now emerging are the short- and long-term consequences of climate change.

Climate change drivers of migration are, for example, extreme weather events like tropical hurricanes and droughts, or gradual changes to the environment like soil salinisation and rising sea levels. These changes have long-term consequences for the economic situation, health and safety of people living in the places thus affected and hence they pose a threat to human rights like the right to adequate food, health and housing. Violent conflicts can also be exacerbated by the impacts of climate change.

Developing countries are particularly affected. They face the challenge of having to deal with the consequences of climate change with the meagre resources at their disposal. Many people in these countries find themselves forced to migrate in order to get away from the worsening living conditions.

Climate change-induced migration

For people who are particularly hard hit by the negative impacts of global warming, migration is a way of adapting to climate change. The umbrella term for this kind of migration and also for displacement caused by extreme weather events and for planned relocations made necessary by the impacts of climate change is “climate change-induced human mobility (External link)”. For the most part, people remain within their home countries or home regions and in many cases their migration is only temporary.

In 2021 alone, extreme weather events led to the displacement of 23.7 million people. Most of these people return to their homes as soon as it is possible for them to do so. If a further natural disaster occurs, they may be obliged to leave their homes again – sometimes this happens several times within the space of one year.

But it is not only natural disasters like floods that cause people to leave their homes. When, for example, harvests decline because of gradual changes to the environment like increasing temperatures, some people decide to migrate. The factors that cause people to decide to migrate (External link) are both complex and personal. In the foreground are often economic, political, social, family-based and demographic reasons, which are then compounded by environmental and climate influences. Many of these reasons impact differently on women and men. It is therefore important to take a gender-responsive approach (External link) when dealing with climate migration.

In future there will be more and more people who leave their home towns and villages because of climate change.

The extent to which climate change will continue to influence migration will depend on whether emissions of greenhouse gases can be reduced. In places where it is too late to avert the impacts of climate change, those affected must receive support to help them adjust to the new situation and adapt to the negative consequences. This support takes the form of diverse adaptation measures within the framework of comprehensive climate risk management.

If people find themselves under pressure to migrate, then they need support – regardless of whether they actually do migrate in the end.

To provide this kind of support, a range of approaches – described in the following sections – are used in German development cooperation:

People wash their clothes in an IDP camp in the southern Sudanese capital Juba

Paying special attention to climate-sensitive sectors

Agriculture, fisheries and water are sectors that require special attention since they are very sensitive to climate change. Measures such as sustainable land use planning or conserving water.

Consultation at the Centre for Jobs, Migration and Reintegration in Dakar, Senegal

Making use of the potential for regulated migration

Migration, for example seasonal labour migration, can be a strategy for adapting to and coping with climate change – for instance when family members who have migrated elsewhere help augment the family income of those left behind by sending them money. The BMZ strives to ensure that people considering migration have sound information as a basis for making their decisions. The BMZ has therefore set up advice centres for jobs, migration and reintegration in several partner countries. The centres are there, for example, to help people seeking a better future either in their home country or in another country.

Storm damage on the Caribbean island of St. Lucia

Support for “trapped populations” Internal link

People living in endangered regions who have no possibility of migrating are described as “trapped populations”. They have to stay in their home locations because, for example, they do not have the money they would need to migrate. They are particularly vulnerable to the risks of environmental change and impoverishment and in need of support. The BMZ is engaged in analysing and managing climate risks in order to reduce the threats to these people.

A man shows at his house in St. Lucia how high the last flood was.

Voluntary, planned relocation

In some cases it seems likely that adaptation activities will not be enough and areas will become uninhabitable as a result of climate change. In such cases, the role of development cooperation can be to ensure that voluntary, planned relocations as a “last resort” are socially compatible and are carried out in consultation with the people affected. Any such relocation exercises must be based on respect for human rights. Relocation then gives people the chance to start anew somewhere else.

Cooperation in action

Two workers at a construction site on the banks of the Mayur River in Khulna town working on a bank stabilisation.

New prospects in Khulna Internal link

Bangladesh is struggling to cope with the effects of climate change. Large parts of the country are situated in the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta, the world’s biggest river delta. One fifth of the country could be left permanently under water as sea levels rise.

Coastal section of a Fiji Island

Planned relocation Internal link

The Pacific island states are particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of climate change. Whilst they themselves contribute only marginally to global warming, their geography means that they suffer disproportionately from its negative impacts.

View of the Caribbean island St. Lucia: left the Atlantic Ocean, right the Caribbean Sea

Campaign to raise awareness of climate risks in St. Lucia Internal link

The eastern Caribbean is repeatedly hit by disasters. That is why the German government is supporting awareness-raising campaigns, so that the local people can consciously minimise their risks.

Background facts Migration forecasts are difficult to make

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (External link) collects data on displacement due to disasters in the past. Current scientific knowledge does not allow precise forecasts to be made as to the kind of future impacts that climate change will have on migration in a given region or local area. Climate-induced migration movements cannot therefore be predicted with any great accuracy.

However, climate and disaster risk analyses can indeed indicate which localities are very likely to be affected by the impacts of climate change in the future. Nevertheless, because the reasons why people migrate are so diverse, these analyses cannot be used to provide exact numbers showing how many people will move away and whether displacement or resettlement will actually take place.

However, qualitative studies – such as the joint study by the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) and GIZ Home Lands (External link) – can embed climate-induced migration in its context and derive possible policy responses.

The number of internal climate migrants is expected to grow

Climate-induced migration has until now been mainly confined to movements within the borders of the country concerned. It is safe to assume that this will continue to be the case in the future. The World Bank (External link) estimates that there could be an additional 143 million internal climate migrants in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia by 2050 unless decisive action is taken to curb climate change even more and to mitigate its impacts via adaptation measures.

Factual background information International processes

Germany is supporting relevant international processes.

Task Force on Displacement

At the climate conference in Paris in 2015, Germany called for a working group to be set up on climate change-induced displacement and migration. Consequently, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (External link) was given the mandate to set up a “Task Force on Displacement”.

The task force took up its work in early 2017 and presented its recommendations at the climate conference in Katowice, Poland at the end of 2018. In its Plan of Action (External link) the Task Force on Displacement sets out a number of activities for compiling and making use of collective experience and knowledge.

Initiatives to manage climate risks

Logo: Global Shield against Climate Risks

The BMZ is working to facilitate the implementation of the Sendai-Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction (External link) of the United Nations at the policy-making level and the practical implementation level.

Furthermore, the BMZ represents Germany in the World Bank’s Consultative Group of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (External link) and provides financial support for its trust fund and for other initiatives targeted at reducing climate risks (such as Climate Risk Early Warning Systems (External link).

The InsuResilience Global Partnership (External link) for risk financing and insurance against climate and disaster risks also contributes to better climate risk management (External link). The Partnership, which is a German initiative, was launched at the climate conference in Bonn at the end of 2017. Climate risk insurance schemes (External link) can have an influence on the driving forces behind migration. There is, however, a need for further research in this regard.

In close cooperation with the group of the most vulnerable developing countries (Vulnerable 20, V20), the G7 are further developing existing approaches to climate and disaster risk financing and insurance into a Global Shield against Climate Risks. This is intended to protect people living in poverty and countries who are particularly vulnerable more quickly and effectively against the financial impacts of climate impacts such as extreme weather events.

The Protection Agenda

The BMZ supports the proposals made in the Protection Agenda, which was endorsed in October 2015 thereby signalling the completion of the Nansen Initiative. The initiative was launched with the goal of providing better protection for people forced to migrate because of natural disasters. The Protection Agenda comprises the following priority measures: better management within affected countries of the risks that can lead to displacement, better humanitarian protection mechanisms for cross-border migration and better data collection and knowledge management. A Platform on Disaster Displacement (External link) has been set up to help implement the Protection Agenda. Germany held the chair until the end of 2017 and has been actively engaged as a formative member of the Platform since then.

Global Compact for Migration

Germany was actively involved in the negotiations for the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (External link) (GCM) and supports the implementation of the Compact. Recommendations made by the GCM include better analyses and exchange formats with regard to mobility patterns resulting from climate-related extreme weather events and slow-onset environmental changes. The intention is to promote the development of strategies to support adaptation and enhance resilience, especially in sending countries.

The GCM also lobbies for the development of concepts at the regional and international levels, in order to address the precarious situation facing people affected by natural disasters and meet the challenges of migration movements and displacement in the context of climate change and natural disasters.


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As at: 19/10/2022