Migration intensification

Migration intensification

Fresh water scarcity, the flooding of coastal areas and the subsequent loss of life and income are all likely to exacerbate existing migration from rural to urban areas and across state and international borders. This could also alter population distribution and composition, increasing the potential for instability and conflict.

  • Environmental refugees—in high numbers such refugees will put pressure on socio-economic policies.
  • Societal stress and economic stress—in places where severe societal inequalities exist, climate change can create tensions through its impact on development, thereby increasing the likelihood of communal violence.
  • Border disputes—climate change is likely to result in changes to the physical landmass of some countries. There is even the possibility of small island states becoming completely submerged due to sea level rises. Coastlines will recede, and shipping routes may need to be altered. All this could increase the potential for international and national disputes.
In October 2006, a CSIRO report on the impact of climate change in the Asia–Pacific region suggested that:
Chronic food and water insecurity and epidemic disease may impede economic development in some nations, while degraded landscapes and inundation of populated areas by rising seas may ultimately displace millions of individuals forcing intra and inter-state migration. The implications of such challenges to human security are difficult to anticipate, but there is currently little awareness of the implications and regional management frameworks for addressing climate change-induced security and migration issues are lacking.

Source: B. Preston, R. Suppiah, I. Macadam and J. Bathols, Climate change in the Asia–Pacific region, 11 October 2006, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, p. 4.

Issues of food and water security, natural disasters, and progressive degradation of ecosystem goods and services are all factors that can act to undermine human security and threaten the health and sustainability of communities and entire nations. 

Environmental Refugees

In July 2008 the World Bank warned Australia that future climate change refugees present the government with a major policy challenge. The Australian Government is providing more than $2 million through AusAID to fund adaptation activities in Samoa, Fiji, Vanuatu, Tonga and Solomon Islands. At the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Cairns, Australia, in August 2009, Pacific members of the Alliance of Small Island States (SIS) underscored 'serious and growing threat posed by climate change to the economic, social, cultural and environmental well-being and security of the SIS countries'. They called on the international community to cooperate and agree on further reductions of greenhouse gas emissions. They also stressed the need for stronger regional coordination on climate change assistance.

In July 2009, an Oxfam report warned that:
By the year 2050, about 75 million people could be forced to leave their homes in the Asia-Pacific region due to climate change. Pacific island governments are already tackling climate change-related relocation and resettlement.

Source: Oxfam briefing paper 2009, The future is here: climate change in the Pacific, July 2009, p. 9.

The Oxfam report suggested that many low-lying countries, especially in the Pacific, are likely to become uninhabitable due to the consequences of climate change. Pacific Islands are already affected by natural hazards such as cyclones, flooding, storm surges and droughts. Climate change may also cause communities to move from low-lying areas of the islands to the highlands, which may exacerbate conflicts over land in some island states. The greater incidence of mosquito-born diseases due to higher temperatures, such as malaria and dengue fever, is also likely to impact on the population movements in the Asia Pacific region.

Various pressures are contributing to the increasing scarcity of fresh and clean water (see Resource scarcity - water). One consequence of the disappearance of fresh water is desertification, which experts link to rising temperatures as a consequence of global climate change. This can in turn lead to small- and large-scale migrations, as local communities increasingly move in search of fresh water, which is necessary for their survival. Migration can create friction among the new arrivals and the traditional inhabitants of the land. Some communities may also be forcibly removed from their traditional land by armed groups, as has happened in Darfur. Fresh water shortages, therefore, can have far-reaching consequences for human, regional and global security if they are not adequately addressed.

Societal stress

Societal stress can arise from there being inadequate resources to meet the basic needs of the population, such as food or water. The Third ASEAN State of the Environment Report 2006—towards an environmentally sustainable community (SOE 2006) noted that subsistence farmers and the poor are generally more severely impacted by climate change and 'consequently they may increase poverty levels and risks of starvation unless adequately planned for'. In many coastal areas, fishing is the main source of nutrition and income for the local population. Depletion of fish stocks may therefore give rise to tensions among local communities or even states. Economic stress contributes to societal stress in many developing countries.

Economic stress and depletion of fish stocks

A CSIRO report on the impacts of climate change in the Asia-Pacific region found that the net effect of climate change on regional and national economies is projected to be largely negative. Loss of agricultural revenue and additional costs for managing water resources, coastlines, and disease and other health risks will be a drag on economic activity. A number of Asia–Pacific nations currently have sluggish or stagnant economic growth that, in some instances, is projected to persist for the foreseeable future. Even with growing regional prosperity, localised climate impacts, such as the collapse of a fishery or the inundation of core cropping land, could put further stress on the economies of the developing nations.

The Asia–Pacific region is the world's largest producer of fish. Vietnam, Thailand and Indonesia are ranked among the top five aquaculture producers in the world; Myanmar and Indonesia are among the top five inland fisheries producers; and Indonesia and Thailand are among the top marine fisheries producers.

The fisheries and aquaculture industries may experience a general decline due to the following factors:

• the timing and amount of precipitation. This could affect the fish migration patterns for spawning, dispersal and growth.

• sea level rise and changes in ocean temperature, salinity, wind speed and direction, up-welling and mixing patterns could substantially alter fish breeding habitats, food supply chains, and fish populations, and

• sea-water intrusion due to sea-level rise and declining river runoff. This is likely to increase the habitat of brackish water fisheries but coastal inundation is likely to seriously affect the aquaculture industry and infrastructure particularly in heavily-populated mega deltas.

The densely populated river deltas and coastal areas in Asia will be among the worst affected regions in the world, and Vietnam has been identified among the top ten developing countries likely to be most adversely affected by climate change due to its vulnerability to rising sea level. Indonesia is also likely to be seriously affected since the country has the longest coastline of all ASEAN members. Apart from the economic and natural problems, additional trans-boundary environmental management problems are likely to arise in South East Asia and may create tensions related to shared stocks and overexploitations of coastal and marine fisheries.

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Border disputes

Climate change is likely to result in changes to the physical landmass of some countries. There is even the possibility of small island states becoming completely submerged due to rising sea levels. Coastlines will recede, and shipping routes may need to be altered. All this could lead to international and national disputes, as well as displacement of populations. It is also likely to cause or exacerbate conflict over declining resources, especially in developing countries.

A report by the German Advisory Council on Global Change on environmentally induced migration and conflict provides a map showing that the 'primary areas of potential conflict and tension arising from rapid population growth and environmental stress' are Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and northern South America (see also Regions most at risk). The report highlights that twenty-five countries, many in Africa, have 'very high levels of potential for conflict'. Environmental stress, with the effects of global climate change, 'including increased risk of flooding, sea level rise and soil erosion', has a potential to increase tensions between populations 'under the guise of religious, ethnic or civil conflict'.

Africa and the Middle East have also been identified by other experts as sites of future cross-border conflict. In its report National Security and the Threat of Climate Change, the American CNA Corporation predicts that 'projected climate change will seriously exacerbate already marginal living standards in many Asian, African, and Middle Eastern nations, causing widespread political instability and the likelihood of failed states'. In a United Nations and Environmental Security policy brief of 2004, Nigel Purvis and Joshua Busby suggest that 'competition for natural resources … has motivated violence in such disparate places as Kuwait, Colombia, and Afghanistan', and that 'natural resources have also helped finance insurgencies in Angola, Sierra Leone, and elsewhere'. Boutros Ghali, former UN Secretary-General, stated in 2005 that 'military confrontation between the countries of the Nile basin was almost inevitable'. Both he and Prince Hassan of Jordan had at various times predicted war in the Middle East, caused by water scarcity.


A study by the World Health Organization (WHO), which was published in 2002, suggests that thousands of deaths were occurring world-wide as a result of climate change. The study entitled World Health Report 2002 suggests that the developing countries bear the brunt of climate change-related deaths. The following map shows the distribution of these deaths across geographical areas.

Deaths from climate change

Source: WHO (2005)

Further reading:

B. Preston, R. Suppiah, I. Macadam and J. Bathols, Climate change in the Asia–Pacific region,  CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, 11 October 2006,

United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Climate change—impacts, vulnerabilities and adaptation in developing countries, 2007.

German Advisory Council on Global Climate Change, Special report 2006—summary for policy makers.

W. A. V. Clark, Environmentally induced migration and conflict, WBGU, Berlin, 2007.

N. Purvis and J. Busby, The security implications of climate change for the UN system, The United Nations and Environmental Security Policy Brief.

P. Basu, Third World bears brunt of global warming impacts, University of Wisconsin–Madison News, 16 November 2005.


22 October, 2010

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