Migration and Global Environmental Change

From the Foresight Site:
‘Foresight projects are in-depth studies looking at major issues 20-80 years in the future.’

The report published by Foresight ‘Migration and Global Environmental Change’ examines how profound changes in environmental conditions such as flooding, drought and rising sea levels will influence and interact with patterns of global human migration over the next 50 years.
This report (2011) results from the work of the whose Lead Expert Group was Chaired by Society Fellow Richard Black, Head of the School of Global Studies and Professor of Geography at the University of Sussex.

Key facts

The impact of environmental change on migration will increase in the future. In particular, environmental change may threaten people’s livelihoods, and a traditional response is to migrate.

Environmental change will also alter populations’ exposure to natural hazards, and migration is, in many cases, the only response to this. For example, 17 million people were displaced by natural hazards in 2009 and 42 million in 2010 (this number also includes those displaced by geophysical events).
There are likely to be between 472 and 552 million people directly or indirectly affected by floods in rural areas in Africa, Asia and Latin America and the Caribbean by 2060.

Migration in the context of environmental change is likely to lead to increased rural–urban migration and city expansion.
Cities will face compound future challenges, which will reinforce each other or ‘multiply’ the consequences.

These challenges are:

1.  Cities are growing in terms of their populations as a result of natural population growth and increased rural–urban migration. For example, Dhaka’s population increased from 1.4 million in 1970 to 14 million in 2010, and is expected to rise to 21 million in 2025; similarly, Shanghai’s population increased from just over 6 million in 1970 to over 16 million in 2010 and is expected to rise to just over 20 million in 2025.

2. Cities are extremely vulnerable to future environmental change, particularly those located in vulnerable areas, such as drylands, low-elevation coastal zones or mountain regions, where inundation, reduced availability of water resources and threats to health will variously be experienced. For example, the populations living in urban floodplains in Asia may rise from 30 million in 2000 to between 83 and 91 million in 2030, and then to 119–188 million in 2060 according to different scenarios of the future.

3. Migrants are particularly vulnerable, as they tend to live in high-density settlements in areas prone to environmental risks, and may not have the human, social or financial capital to protect themselves from these risks. For example:
● In Dakar, Senegal, 40% of new migrants arriving in the past decade have moved to zones with high flood potential.
● Around 20% of the population of Rio de Janeiro live in favelas, which are susceptible to landslides and floods, with a significant proportion of those being migrants coming from dryland areas in north-eastern Brazil.

Download  the executive summary for an overview of the report.


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