Migration and climate

A man looks at the sea near Nouakchott, Mauritania.

Extreme weather events like cyclones and droughts, slow-onset environmental changes like soil salinisation and rising sea levels all have long-term consequences for the economic situation, health and safety of people living in the places thus affected. Furthermore, the impacts of climate change can cause, or exacerbate, violent conflicts.

Developing countries are particularly affected. They face the challenge of having to avert or reduce or, failing that, at least cushion themselves from the direct consequences of climate change, despite a lack of resources and capacity to do so. The result is that people are sometimes forced to migrate, for instance from rural to urban areas, as a way of coping with the worsening conditions.

Flooding in Mozambique

Climate change-induced human mobility

For people who are very severely affected by the negative changes brought on by global warming, migration is a way of adapting to climate change. This is often a temporary measure. The umbrella term for this kind of migration and for displacement caused by extreme weather events and also relocation in response to climate change is "climate change-induced human mobility".

According to the Global Report on Internal Displacement, in 2018 alone there were 16.1 million people who had been displaced by extreme weather events. That is considerably more than the 10.8 million people displaced by conflicts in the same period.

The factors leading up to a decision to migrate are both complex and personal. In the foreground are often economic, political, socio-cultural, family-based and demographic reasons, which are then compounded by environmental and climate influences.

Internally displaced persons in South Sudan

Migration forecasts are difficult to make

Current scientific knowledge does not allow us to make precise forecasts of what kind of impact climate change will have on a given region or local area. Climate-induced migration movements cannot therefore be predicted with any great accuracy.

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

Many people lack the financial resources to migrate – they are "trapped populations", stuck with their poor environmental and living conditions.

Internally displaced persons in Somalia

The number of internally displaced people is expected to grow

Climate-induced migration and mobility have 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 anticipates an additional 143 million internal climate migrants in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia up to 2050 unless decisive action is taken to mitigate the effects of climate change.

Most of these people will probably return to their countries and regions of origin, as soon as it is possible for them to do so. This is what people tend to do, particularly after extreme weather events and natural disasters. One thing that is clear, however, is that there will be more and more people in the future who will leave their home towns and villages because of climate change.

Dried-out soil

Mitigation and adaptation

In order to ensure that people at risk can lead self-determined lives, we need to take determined action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to limit the rise in global temperatures.

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

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

Starting points for development cooperation:

Reducing greenhouse gases

Measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions slow down the increase in extreme weather events and mitigate the impacts of climate change. German development policy includes supporting comprehensive climate risk management via a range of different initiatives, for example the NDC Partnership.

Solar installation in Bangladesh

Adaptation activities

Adaptation activities, disaster risk management and the right tools with which to address residual climate risks (for example, taking out climate risk insurance) all strengthen resilience or, in other words, the ability to cope with climate-induced changes. The result is that people are able to either remain in their home regions or return to them quickly without delay.

Improving urban resilience

Climate change mainly causes migration within a country or regional migration movements. Those affected often move to the nearest town. Strengthening urban resilience so that those who move to towns and cities will find a safe haven is particularly important.

Traffic in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Paying special attention to climate-sensitive sectors

Special attention must be paid to climate-sensitive areas of economic activity like agriculture, fishing and the water sector. Measures to introduce sustainable land use planning or conserve water resources, for example, can reduce migratory pressures.

Drip irrigation on a field in Ethiopia

Supporting those considering migration

The BMZ strives to ensure that people considering migration have sound information as a basis for making their decisions. Migration can be a strategy for adapting to and coping with climate change - for example when family members who have migrated elsewhere help augment the family income of those left behind by sending them money.

The BMZ has set up advice centres for jobs, migration and reintegration in 13 partner countries. The centres are there, for example, to help people seeking a better future either in their home country or in another country. People who come to the centres can get helpful information about job and training opportunities or about starting a business and can find out about official migration options and the risks of irregular migration.

The Centre for Career Guidance and Retraining of the GIZ in Bizerte helps young people to find their way around the Tunisian labour market.

Making use of the potential for regulated migration

Regulated migration (for example, seasonal labour migration) can be a solution for some people who find themselves facing pressure to migrate because of the impacts of climate change on their home regions. With its programme to support the African Union (AU) on migration and refugee issues the BMZ is strengthening regional-level AU bodies, for example in areas such as diaspora cooperation and money transfers, or labour migration and free movement of people.

A trainee at work

Support for "trapped populations"

People living in endangered regions who have no possibility of migrating are described as "trapped populations". They may be "trapped" in a high-risk region because, for example, they do not have the money they would need to move a long way away. They are particularly vulnerable to the risks of environmental change and impoverishment and in need of support. The BMZ is engaged in efforts to try and reduce the vulnerability of such people (see also climate risk management).

A woman with her children in an IDP camp in Southern Sudan

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. Relocation then gives people the chance to start anew somewhere else. Resettlement can be a way to reduce risks and save human lives.

Beachcomber Island, Fiji

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, migration and human mobility. As a result of the group's findings, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts 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. It falls within the remit of the BMZ to represent Germany on the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism.

Initiatives to manage climate risks

The BMZ is working to facilitate the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 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, and provides financial support for its trust fund and other initiatives targeted at reducing climate risks (such as CREWS, the Climate Risk Early Warning Systems).

Valuable support for better climate risk management also comes from the InsuResilience Global Partnership, set up in late 2017 at Germany's instigation during the climate conference in Bonn.

The Protection Agenda

The BMZ supports the proposals made in the Protection Agenda, whose endorsement in October 2015 signalled the completion of the Nansen Initiative. These proposals include the following priority measures: (i) improved management, within affected countries, of the risks that can lead to displacement; (ii) better humanitarian protection mechanisms for cross-border migration; and (iii) improved data collection and knowledge management. A Platform on Disaster Displacement was set up to help implement the Protection Agenda. Germany presided over the Platform until the end of 2017 and, since then, has been a proactive member.

Global Compact for Migration

Germany was actively involved in the negotiations for the Global Compact for Migration (GCM) and supports the implementation of the Compact. Recommendations made by the GCM include better formats for analysis and exchange regarding 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.

  • Beachcomber Island, Fiji
    Bangladesh: cooperation in action

    New prospects in Khulna

    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 largest river delta. One fifth of the country could be left permanently under water as sea levels rise.

  • Fiji islands
    The Pacific Islands: cooperation in action

    Relocation plans

    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.

  • A man shows at his house on St. Lucia how high the last flood was.
    The eastern Caribbean: Cooperation in action

    Campaign to raise awareness of climate risks in St. Lucia

    The eastern Caribbean is one of the most disaster-prone regions in the world. That is why the German government is supporting awareness-raising campaigns, so that the local people can minimise their risks.

A man shows at his house on St. Lucia how high the last flood was.
Bangladesh: cooperation in action

New prospects in Khulna

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. On top of that, Bangladesh is already the most densely populated country in the world.

The melting of glaciers, ever heavier monsoon rains, more frequent cyclones, rising sea levels and worsening erosion along river banks are together destroying the living space of millions of people. People on low incomes are particularly hard hit by the effects of climate change.

Najma and Qulsum are two internal climate migrants who now live in the slums of Khulna, the third-biggest town in Bangladesh, which lies in the south-west region of the country. Before that they each of them lived in one of the particularly vulnerable areas that are found along the country's many river banks and coastal strips.

Severe river erosion destroyed all of Qulsum's family's arable farmland and forced them to relocate to the nearest larger town. Najma had to leave her old home after a cyclone had destroyed her few meagre possessions. She was able to find shelter in a dilapidated building with no windows in one of the informal slums in and around Khulna. While Qulsum and Najma have found work, all be it as very low-paid domestic servants, many other people living in these settlements – among them 18-year-old Rokeya – have no work whatsoever.

Around 70 per cent of the slum dwellers in Khulna came there because of the effects of climate change. However, the city of Khulna, with its 1.5 million inhabitants, itself lies only two to four metres above sea level. Through development cooperation activities, Germany is assisting the city authorities in managing the influx of people relocating to Khulna in order to escape the effects of climate change.

Improving living conditions in Khulna

Further training offered locally for small and medium-sized businesses and labour-intensive measures to overhaul and expand the city's water, sanitation and power supply systems are helping to improve living conditions in the slums and people's prospects of finding employment.

Royeka, who lives in the Rupscha Shashan Ghat slum, says happily: "Thanks to my further training course in electrical engineering, I now have better prospects – as a woman – of finding a job, especially in households where, in the absence of a male family member, a male technician would not be acceptable. That is why I am very pleased about this further training."

Protecting the town against flooding

The regional Cities Development Initiative for Asia (CDIA), which also benefits from funding provided as part of German development cooperation, is supporting the efforts of the municipal authorities in Khulna to provide better protection against the regular flooding which the town experiences: roads are being paved and fitted with drains, and drainage channels are being constructed. As a result of this work, the urban neighbourhoods are no longer flooded for weeks at a time. The slum areas benefit particularly, because the improved roads mean that they now have permanent connections to the transport grid, resulting in new economic opportunities for the people who live there.


A man shows at his house on St. Lucia how high the last flood was.
Rickshaw driver on the completed bypass road in Khulna, Bangladesh
Rickshaw driver on the completed bypass road in Khulna, Bangladesh
Dam road to protect a residential area at the port of Khulna in Bangladesh
Dam road to protect a residential area at the port of Khulna in Bangladesh
Two workers on a construction site on the banks of the Mayur River in the city of Khulna on a bank reinforcement.
Project marking in the redevelopment area Jessore-Joragate in Khulna, Bangladesh
Building a new road in Khulna, Bangladesh
Fiji islands
The Pacific Islands: cooperation in action

Relocation plans

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.

Many inhabitants are already exposed to extreme weather events such as cyclones and droughts. The expected rise in sea levels and in temperatures, the changes in patterns of precipitation, and the acidification of the oceans will exacerbate the risks even further and threaten the livelihoods of the people living on these islands.

The village of Narikoso in Fiji is threatened by rising sea levels. Over the last 30 years its coastline has moved 15 metres inland and the first houses are already standing in the water. That is why relocation plans have been made. New homes will be built 150 metres away from the old village – far enough away from the sea that they will not be flooded, but close enough to the old village to preserve the community. The local people are receiving training to help them improve their livelihoods, for example by adapting farming practices to the changed climatic conditions.

The relocation is being supported through ​cooperation between the EU and the BMZ. The experience gained in Narikoso has also helped with the drafting of the first version of new "guidelines for planned relocations". The new guidelines will also mean that, in future, all stakeholders are consulted on unavoidable relocations so as to ensure that they are successful and sustainable.

These activities are all part of a comprehensive programme of climate risk management geared to enhancing the capacities of the local population, their civil society partners, regional organisations and national authorities so that they are better able to cope with the effects of climate change.

A man shows at his house on St. Lucia how high the last flood was.
The eastern Caribbean: Cooperation in action

Campaign to raise awareness of climate risks in St. Lucia

Climate change is hitting the small island states in the eastern Caribbean especially hard. The social and economic consequences of extreme weather events in the OECS region (Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States) are devastating, as Hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 showed. However, the threat is not just from hurricanes; increasingly heavy rainfall that causes rivers to overflow their banks, leading to flooding and mudslides, is also a threat for local communities.

That is the case for the community of Anse-la-Raye on St. Lucia, an island state in the Caribbean. Anse-la-Raye with its 7,000 inhabitants lies between two rivers in a valley on the west coast of the island. Heavy rain keeps on bringing with it flooding to the area and the rivers cut off the escape routes to the safety of the mountains.

Some inhabitants responded to a state initiative and relocated to the surrounding mountains. However, many people have remained where they are – some of them because they do not want to leave their social environment, but also some of them because they are not aware of the dangers.

Raising awareness about the dangers and consequences of natural disasters

This is why the German government has commissioned the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) to support a series of awareness-raising campaigns by the OECS Commission.

Staff from the OECS Commission and GIZ also organised a citizens' forum in Anse-la-Raye. At the forum both the local people and local politicians had the opportunity to talk not only about the dangers to the town's population from natural disasters but also about the possible need to relocate.

Challenges with regard to relocation measures

Many local people are indeed willing to relocate. However, they lack financial support, as countless participants in the forum in Anse-la-Raye reported. The town is regarded as one of the poorest regions in St. Lucia and, according to Stephen Griffith, the chair of the Anse-la-Raye Disaster Committee, not everyone living there is able to buy one of the plots of land made available by the government of St. Lucia.

Protecting parts of the town against flooding

One of the key problems caused by the floods in Anse-la-Raye is the heavy pollution of the river bed. It often means that the flood water is either unable to flow away at all or it flows away more slowly. The German development cooperation activities in the area therefore include supporting efforts to clean up both of the rivers running through Anse-la-Raye and to restore the natural flood plains. The restoration of mangroves near the town will help on the one hand to make sure the river keeps flowing, by creating flood areas that are meant to prevent flooding in the town. On the other hand, the mangrove forests are also meant to create opportunities for economic development in the tourism sector.

Table of contents

Topic "Climate change and development"

BMZ glossary

Close window


Share page