Analysing climate migration

Aqilah Rahman

The past 10 years have been the warmest decade recorded, with the warmest years being 2016, 2019 and 2020. As global temperature rises, so does the frequency and severity of droughts, floods, storms, along with continued sea-level rise, ocean warming and acidification, and glacial loss.

Impacts of climate change continue to unfold, and livelihoods of people all around the world are also affected, especially those who live in vulnerable regions.

Without immediate action, hotspots of climate migration could emerge as early as 2030. Up to 216 million people could be forced to migrate within their own countries by 2050, according to the Groundswell report.

Recently published by the World Bank, the report includes projections and analysis of internal climate migration for three regions: East Asia and the Pacific; North Africa; and Eastern Europe and Central Asia by 2050. It builds on the previous Groundswell report from 2018 which covered Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America.

“The Groundswell report is a stark reminder of the human toll of climate change, particularly on the world’s poorest – those who are contributing the least to its causes. It also clearly lays out a path for countries to address some of the key factors that are causing climate-driven migration,” said World Bank Vice President of Sustainable Development Juergen Voegele in a recent press release.

Motorists make their way along a waterlogged street during a downpour in New Delhi. PHOTO: AFP


The report deploys a scenario-based approach: climate friendly, inclusive development and pessimistic. Each scenario has a different pathway in terms of greenhouse global gases emissions and development, which in turn affects the degree of climate change and migration.

With high emissions and an unequal development pathway, the pessimistic scenario projects the highest climate migration levels. In this scenario, the projected number of migrants ranges from 124.6 million to 216.1 million by 2050 across the six regions.

At the high end of the scale, Sub-Saharan Africa has the highest number of migrants at 86 million, followed by East Asia and the Pacific (49 million), South Asia (40 million), North Africa (19 million), Latin America (17 million), and Eastern Europe and Central Asia (five million).

In the more inclusive development scenario, emissions are equally high but with a more equal development pathway. At the low end of the range, the number of migrants is projected to be 90.9 million, which is 60 per cent lower than the high end of the pessimistic scenario.

Meanwhile, the climate-friendly scenario takes the pathway of lower emissions combined with an unequal development. This scenario projects the least number of migrants across the six regions, with a reduction of up to 80 per cent from the high end of the pessimistic scenario.

The modelling presented in the report focusses on internal climate migration as most migrants do not cross borders but instead move within their own countries. Water scarcity, rising sea levels, storms and declining crop yields are identified to be the among the drivers of internal climate migration in the model, particularly in rural areas around the world.


Taking the appropriate, immediate action could reduce migration caused by climate change by as much as 80 per cent. To achieve this, the report recommends four key actions.

Firstly, global greenhouse gases should be cut. At current emission rates, global warming is projected to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and early 2050s, which will in turn lead to severe impacts of climate and migration. A sharp reduction in global greenhouse gas emission could significantly alleviate impacts of climate change so people do not have to migrate.

Secondly, climate migration should be integrated into far sighted green, resilient and inclusive development planning. Systematic planning can help people adapt locally or move under favorable circumstances, particularly for those who live in vulnerable areas.

Thirdly, each phase of migration should be planned out and taken into account. This includes before, during and after migrating to ensure positive adaptation and development outcomes.

The fourth key action is investing in understanding the drivers of climate migration through evidence-based research, models and consultations to inform policy response.

“The Groundswell report series reaffirms that internal climate migrants will continue to be the human face of climate change. The potency for climate change to drive migration is set to increase to mid-century and beyond if no action is taken,” said the report.