Field research suggests that the number of potential “climate migrants” may be overestimated

On the basis of 23 case studies, most of them in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean, the EACH-FOR (Environmental Change and Forced Migration Scenarios) project demonstrated a range of complex interlinkages. First, it is clear that climate change is not the only potential trigger for migration, but it is one important trigger that can directly or indirectly affect decisions to move. Second, migration has been used often as a means to cope with the effects of some periodic, environ­mental events, such as droughts or floods, with a preferred option being temporary or seasonal migration.  Migration is a strategy to improve food and livelihood security of both the migrants and their relatives that stay behind. In this sense, migration is not a “bad thing to do”. Migration decisions are complex: the environment is one of the factors and it often interacts with other political, economic and cultural factors.

Many of the EACH-FOR case studies show unambiguously that people who want to leave their villages/regions/country can only do so if they have the necessary financial means and access to networks that support migration. In fact, the financial means are often not available, since the environmental degradation had a negative impact on their income or the overall political or economic context overrides the environmental push factor. An important outcome of the fieldwork is that migration induced by environmental hazards and degradation is mainly internal and seldom international.These findings cast doubt on the frequently touted figures of “millions of migrants” due to climate change.

The EACH-FOR project makes a number of policy recommendations. First and foremost, it is clear that policies, including development policies, must support the sustainability of the local populations and there is a strong need to improve the local capacity to adapt to environmental change and hazards.

The research has demonstrated that environmental change is one of the motives for migration, but mostly these migrants move within their country or region, not to Europe.   This has three implications for the EU. First, although it suggests that there will not necessarily be large flows of environmentally forced migrants to the EU, it does mean that development policies of the EU should focus on increasing the capacity of those people in developing countries affected by environmental changes and hazards to cope. Second, when people cannot migrate because they have neither the money nor the networks to do so, they will suffer as a result of environmental changes and hazards, so the EU must be prepared to help them with humanitarian aid. Third, since climatic change, which is not the only, but nevertheless is a significant, push factor in many developing countries, is currently the result of economic activities in developed countries, the EU has a responsibility to reduce emissions and mitigate the effects of climate change and thus the impacts on people in developing countries, who otherwise will face an increasing pressure to migrate.

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