2. Climate Migrants Prefer To Remain Close to Home, but Transnational Moves Are Possible
Our research revealed that most climate migrants will aim to relocate within affected countries’ borders, preferring to remain as close to family, culture, and social networks as possible. One important caveat is a phenomenon called “stepwise migration,” where migrants make incremental adjustments in the process of their long-term resettlements, again, to minimize personal disruption each time. Researchers for a recent study by The New York Times Magazine and ProPublica found that for climate migrants: “It’s only when those [new] places fail them that they tend to cross borders, taking on ever riskier journeys.”2 Migrants who do exit their country may leave a spouse or other family members behind, preferring to minimize the disruption and send financial assistance home.
Within regions subject to climate change, people are not affected equally. Higher-income individuals may have a broader range of options and defense mechanisms. They may be able to remain at home and adapt, adjusting living and working conditions with cooling systems for homes and offices, swimming pools, or frequent travel. At the other end of the income spectrum, people with the fewest resources may be unable to leave a climate-affected region at all. Women may be particularly disadvantaged as male family members depart, leaving traditional caretakers behind to manage homes and farms in increasingly unstable environments. We believe most climate migrants will fall somewhere in the middle of the socioeconomic continuum.
3. Climate Migration Will Accelerate Urbanization
Climate migration will almost certainly contribute to the rapid urbanization already occurring in many parts of the world. With migrants preferring to leave at-risk rural areas yet stay as close to their original location as possible, both push and pull factors drive urbanization. On the push side, the economic prospects for people in agriculturally dependent areas may dim as crop yields decline and farming becomes more difficult and uneconomic. On the pull side, migrants may perceive cities as offering better living conditions, including more education and employment opportunities and less risk of personal harm from extreme weather events.
The effects of climate-driven urbanization will vary. Many cities are already overcrowded and resource stretched. Climate-induced population growth could exacerbate those conditions, creating new social, economic, and political challenges. On the other hand, newcomers may opt to move on after a brief stay, in stepwise fashion. If fewer people put down roots, social or economic instability may increase as well. In some cases, higher-income urban residents may decide to leave, leveraging their financial means and personal networks to abandon the city or their home country outright. While departed cities could experience the negative effects of “brain drain,” receiving cities could benefit from lower-cost sources of skilled labor, new markets for local business, and additional sources of tax revenue.
Finally, many cities are located in low-lying coastal areas. Continued growth in addition to advancing climate perils could create a concentration of insurance risks in these urban areas, with property and casualty insurers paying out large sums following repeated climate events, or with households and businesses unable to afford or secure coverage.
4. The Hottest Parts of the World Will Be Most Negatively Affected by Climate Migration
Climate data generated from Wellington’s collaboration with Woodwell project that the equatorial region will experience the largest temperature increases, prompting a concentration of climate migration. As FIGURE 1 shows, climate models estimate that the geographic zone 30° north and south of the equator will see between two and five additional months of “danger” or “extreme danger” temperatures in the coming decades, as compared to a baseline period between 1951 and 1980. Because we believe that climate migrants will prefer to remain in country, we conclude that the nexus of climate migration will be in this zone, home to several large emerging markets and several countries where political instability is already high.
An important exception is bottleneck regions that lie in major migratory corridors. If and when cross-border migrants feel the need to relocate to wealthier developed markets, certain countries could face pressure from transitory mass migration. Turkey, for example, has been challenged by an influx of migrants leaving Syria en route to Europe. Mexico may also see increased pressure from migrants from Central America aiming to resettle in the US.