Context: A World Bank report has found that climate change could push more than 200 million people to leave their homes in the next three decades and create migration hot spots.

Key Highlights of the report

  • The report examines the impacts of slow-onset climate change, such as: 
    • Water scarcity, 
    • Decreasing crop productivity and 
    • Rising sea levels.
  • These could lead to millions of what it describes as “climate migrants” by 2050 under three different scenarios with varying degrees of climate action and development.
  • Most pessimistic scenario:
    • A high level of emissions and unequal development, the report forecasts up to 216 million people moving within their own countries across the six regions analysed. 
    • Those regions are Latin America; North Africa; Sub-Saharan Africa; Eastern Europe and Central Asia; South Asia; and East Asia and the Pacific.
  • Most climate-friendly scenario:
    • With a low level of emissions and inclusive, sustainable development, the world could still see 44 million people being forced to leave their homes.
  • The findings also reaffirm the potency of climate to induce migration within countries.
  • Most Vulnerable region
    • In the worst-case scenario, 
      • Sub-Saharan Africa — the most vulnerable region due to desertification, fragile coastlines and the population’s dependence on agriculture — would see the most migrants, with up to 86 million people moving within national borders.
      • North Africa, however, is predicted to have the largest proportion of climate migrants, with 19 million people moving, equivalent to roughly 9% of its population, due mainly to increased water scarcity in northeastern Tunisia, 
      • northwestern Algeria, western and southern Morocco, and the central Atlas foothills
      • In South Asia, Bangladesh is particularly affected by flooding and crop failures, accounting for almost half of the predicted climate migrants, with 19.9 million people, including an increasing number of women, moving by 2050 under the pessimistic scenario.
  • Many scientists say the world is no longer on track to the worst-case scenario for emissions.
    • But even under a more moderate scenario, many impacts are occurring faster than expected, including the extremes we are experiencing, as well as potential implications for migration and displacement.

Climate Migration within India

Climate Migrant

  • The term ‘climate migrants’ is used to refer to people displaced due to climate change impacts such as sea level rise, floods and droughts
    • Increased sea level rise in the inhabited islands of the Sundarbans, drought in central India and extreme floods in the Ganges and Brahmaputra basins are already displacing people.


  • The National Sample Survey Office (NSSO) in its 61st round in 2004-05, estimated that the population of urban poor increased by 34.4 per cent from 1973 to 2004. 
  • But the increase in urban poor due to climate change impacts, though not accurately measured, has been far less.
  • The 64th round of NSSO, in 2007-08, titled Migration in India identified natural disasters including floods and droughts as one of the major reasons for migration, but the figures were as low as 13 per 1,000 migrant households reporting natural disasters as the reason for migration.
  • The Census 2011 shows that less than 20 per cent of India’s population growth was due to rural-urban migration.

Climate Migrants and cities

  • It is a common notion that climate migrants could lead to an increase in the number of urban poor and add to urban development challenges.
  • Even a marginal rise in climate migrants to cities could be an urban development challenge because
    • Cities don’t have adequate infrastructure to host migrants: 
      • According to the Census 2011 report, the infrastructure gaps in cities were poor. 
      • Less than 70.6 per cent of urban households were covered by individual connections of water supply and over 17 per cent of the urban population lived in slums.
  • With the lack of adequate infrastructure in cities, migrants are likely to end up living in crowded temporary shelters with low access to drinking water, sanitation and health care facilities.
  • The migrants are unlikely to have the required skills to work in urban areas: 
    • The high-powered expert committee report on urban infrastructure in 2011 observed industrialisation in urban areas has been capital intensive and the services boom fuelled by the knowledge economy has also been skill intensive.
    • In such an urbanisation pattern, there can be little scope for finding employment in urban areas for climate migrants if they are displaced by extreme events in future.
    • With a lack of skills, the only possibility of employment for climate migrants would be as unskilled labourers in the construction and manufacturing industries.

Way Forward

  • Cities need to recognise migration as a challenge, particularly of those displaced due to climate change and other natural disasters in the future and have appropriate urban development policies and programmes to accommodate them.
  • It is important for cities to recognise that migration is not necessarily a burden and could contribute to labour in industry and the manufacturing sector, adding to the local economy while providing a livelihood option to climate migrants.
  • Providing low-cost housing and skill development for migrants would be of high importance.

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