Exploring the link between climate change and migration
Sabine L. Perch-Nielsen
Michèle B. Bättig
Received: 23 October 2006 / Accepted: 20 February 2008 / Published online: 22 April 2008
ETH Zürich 2008
Abstract Previous research has postulated that climate change will lead to mass migration.
However, the linkages postulated between the two have not been explicitly demonstrated
but have rather been derived from ‘common sense’. In this paper, the connection between
climate change and migration via two mechanisms, sea level rise and floods, is investigated
and depicted in conceptual models. In both cases, a connection can be traced and the
linkages are made explicit. However, the study also clearly shows that the connection is by
no means deterministic but depends on numerous factors relating to the vulnerability of the
people and the region in question.
Migration as a consequence of climate change has attracted the interest of researchers and
policy makers in the last two decades. Mostly, the topic is examined as a part of a larger
discussion on migration caused by environmental factors in general (Bates 2002; Castles
2002; Döös 1997; Wood 2001; for an overview of previous literature see Lonergan (1998)).
A few studies have focussed on climate change as a specific environmental factor leading to
migration (McLeman and Smit 2006; Meze-Hausken 2000), in some cases by investigating
case studies in the (prehistoric) past (Fang and Liu 1992; Huang et al. 2003; Tyson et al.
2002). While overall this literature shows a consensus that environmental factors can play a
role among many interacting causes of migration, there is an open debate as to their
importance. Some researchers argue that the environment can be a primary factor.
Following this assumption, they have introduced the concept of ‘environmental refugees’
and have defined (El-Hinnawi 1985), quantified (Jacobsen 1988; Myers 1993) and
classified (Bates 2002; Lonergan 1998) this type of migrants. The connection between the
Climatic Change (2008) 91:375–393
S. L. Perch-Nielsen
M. B. Bättig
Department of Environmental Sciences, Institute of Biogeochemistry and Pollutant Dynamics,
ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland
S. L. Perch-Nielsen (*)
ETH Zurich, CHN E 24, 8092 Zurich, Switzerland