Climate-Induced Migration in Asia and the Pacific

Feature | 15 September 2011

Geography, compounded by high levels of poverty and population density, has rendered Asia and the Pacific especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The region is home to more than 4 billion people and some of the fastest growing cities in the world. By 2020, 13 of the world's 25 megacities, most of them situated in coastal areas, will be in Asia and the Pacific. Climate change will likely exacerbate existing pressures on key resources associated with growth, urbanization and industrialization.

In 2010, more than 30 million people in Asia and the Pacific were displaced by environmental disasters such as storms and floods. Many returned home, but others did not. Climate change is expected to increase the frequency of extreme weather events, bringing about significant changes in migration patterns. This will pose a major threat to the growth and security of Asia and the Pacific unless measures are taken soon.

"Migration will become a major adaptive response to climate change and will add to the already increasing level and complexity of population mobility in the region," said Bart W. Edes, Regional and Sustainable Development Department at the Asian Development Bank.

A recent ADB study titled Policy Options to Support Climate-Induced Migration underscores the urgency of developing policies, appropriate institutions, and mechanisms to cope with the impact of climate change on migration.

While it is not possible to know the exact scale and scope of these impacts at present, the areas most likely to be impacted by climate change-induced migration can be identified. "This would allow us to outline broad policy recommendations to address surrounding issues," said Edes.

While some displacements are temporary, the sudden eviction of large numbers of people from their home area can place significant pressure on infrastructure and services. Climate-induced displacement will undermine economic growth, enhance the risk of conflict, and lead to deterioration of social indicators. What does climate change-induced migration look like?

Edes listed four unique factors:

  • Forced climate change-induced migration will involve mostly poor people;
  • Most resettlement will occur within poor countries;
  • Displaced people face landlessness, homelessness and food insecurity; and
  • Risk of conflict due to cross-border migration.

"The study emphasizes that migration will become a major adaptive response to climate change and will add to the already increasing level and complexity of population mobility in the region," said Edes.