An III Wind? Climate Change, Migration, and Health

By McMichael, Celia; Barnett, Jon et al. | Environmental Health Perspectives, May 2012 | Go to article overview

An III Wind? Climate Change, Migration, and Health


McMichael, Celia, Barnett, Jon, McMichael, Anthony J., Environmental Health Perspectives


BACKGROUND: Climate change is projected to cause substantial increases in population movement in coming decades. Previous research has considered the likely causal influences and magnitude of such movements and the risks to national and international security. There has been little research on the consequences of climate-related migration and the health of people who move.

OBJECTIVES: In this review, we explore the role that health impacts of climate change may play in population movements and then examine the health implications of three types of movements likely to be induced by climate change: forcible displacement by climate impacts, resettlement schemes, and migration as an adaptive response.

METHODS: This risk assessment draws on research into the health of refugees, migrants, and people in resettlement schemes as analogs of the likely health consequences of climate-related migration. Some account is taken of the possible modulation of those health risks by climate change.

DISCUSSION: Climate-change related migration is likely to result in adverse health outcomes, both for displaced and for host populations, particularly in situations of forced migration. However, where migration and other mobility are used as adaptive strategies, health risks are likely to be minimized, and in some cases there will be health gains.

CONCLUSIONS: Purposeful and timely policy interventions can facilitate the mobility of people, enhance well-being, and maximize social and economic development in both places of origin and places of destination. Nevertheless, the anticipated occurrence of substantial relocation of groups and communities will underscore the fundamental seriousness of human-induced climate change.

KEY WORDS: climate change, displacement, health, migration, resettlement. Environ Health Perspect 120:646-654 (2012). http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1104375 [Online 20 January 2012]

Climate change is widely projected to cause substantial increases in the scale of human population movement in coming decades. Forecasts of the number of people who will move by around midcentury in response to the effects of climate change vary from tens of millions to 250 million people [Boano et al. 2008; Brown 2007; Christian Aid 2007; United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) 2009]. The estimate by Myers (2002) that climate change will cause up to an additional 200 million "environmental refugees" by 2050 has become a widely accepted figure--although its empirical basis has been questioned (Brown 2008).

Growing concern about climate change as a significant contributor to future population movements arises particularly from awareness of the likelihood of climate-related changes in people's living and working environments (Tacoli 2009). This knowledge itself affects people's perceptions of the risks and benefits associated with staying versus migrating. Current scientific assessments project that climate change will--to varying extents among different regions and communities--exacerbate morbidity and mortality, reduce incomes, and decrease access to important forms of natural capital. Accordingly, people may choose to move to places perceived as offering a better life.

In this review, we focus on the health dimensions of future climate-related population movements. After a brief discussion of the likely relationship between climate change and population movement, we examine two key themes relating to health, climate change, and population movement: the risks that climate change poses to human health, and how this may contribute to population movement; and the specific health implications of potential climate-related population movements, particularly the health risks to forcibly displaced people, to those involved in resettlement schemes, and to those who migrate to urban areas. Given the nascent status of this research topic, we necessarily draw on previous studies of refugees, people in resettlement schemes, and migrants as analogs for the health issues associated with future climate-related movements. …

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