Background information Human mobility in the context of climate change

The patterns of population movements induced by climate change are as diverse as the effects of climate change themselves.

There are three main forms of mobility:

  • Voluntary migration,
  • Forced displacement, and
  • Planned relocation.

These different forms are all grouped under the label “human mobility in the context of climate change”.

However, climate change can also result in immobility if people refuse, for instance, to leave their homes and properties or simply cannot afford migration. This – voluntary or forced – immobility and the risks it entails also need to be taken into account in development policy.

Typically local and temporary

Mobility in the context of climate change typically takes place within a given country or region. People, for example, leave their homes to take up a seasonal job elsewhere.

Many people who have been displaced by extreme weather events return to their homes as soon as it is possible for them to do so. If a further disaster occurs, they may be obliged to leave their homes again – sometimes this happens several times within the space of one year. Typically, people move from rural areas to cities to make up for the loss of income from agriculture or fishery.

Precise forecasts are difficult

The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) collects data on displacement due to disasters. According to the IDMC (External link), 32.6 million people were internally displaced by extreme weather events such as storms or floods in 2022. More than 50 per cent of all internally displaced persons were forced to leave their homes as a result of natural disasters.

Experts agree that in future climate change will be one of the reasons why more people will be leaving their home regions. Current scientific knowledge does not allow precise forecasts to be made as to the kind of future impacts that climate change will have on human mobility.

Climate and disaster risk analyses can indicate which geographical 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.

As at: 13/07/2023