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Climate Change and Migration

A potential shock to demographic projections.

  • Climate change could trigger large waves of migration…
  • …both within economies and across borders…
  • …which could completely alter demographic projections

The impact of climate change on the world is likely to be vast. In addition to shocks to potential economic activity, there are not insignificant risks that certain parts of the world could become less hospitable or even uninhabitable, leading to much higher numbers of economic migrants or refugees in years to come.

There are already reasons to question longer-run demographic forecasts; we believe the way birth rates are modelled is too simplistic. But it also looks like migration assumptions are over-simplified in these sorts of models.

30% lower
UN estimate for global net migration for the next decade

For example, the UN estimates that inward migration from emerging to developed economies (at a rate of three people per 1,000 in 2019) has already peaked this century, and that net migration in the next decade is set to be 30% lower than in the decade that preceded the pandemic. Its estimate is that net migration out of Africa will be 60% lower this decade than during the pre-pandemic period.

Climate change could have a significant impact on [current migration] assumptions.

Climate change could have a significant impact on such assumptions. Expected rises in global temperatures in the coming decades will likely mean more economies or regions become harder or impossible to live in, including through more frequent and severe droughts and floods; this is supported by the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, which see significant risks of more frequent climate-related natural disasters as temperatures rise.

As a result, involuntary migration from the most vulnerable parts of the world could pick up sharply, significantly altering the spatial composition of the world’s population. Such scenarios could mean that parts of Africa see their populations shrink, whereas Europe doesn’t.

The economic consequences are likely to be profound. Firstly, these scenarios imply changes to demographic assumptions that would alter potential growth rates for many economies around the world. Secondly, huge policy questions arise – from border to integration policies – as well as how best to tackle these challenges on an international scale.

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