Environmental factors have long had an impact on global migration flows, as people have historically left places with harsh or deteriorating conditions. However, the scale of such flows, both internal and cross-border, is expected to rise as a result of accelerated climate change, with unprecedented impacts on lives and livelihoods. Such migration can have positive and negative effects on both the local coping capacity and the environment in areas from which these migrants originate, as well as in their temporary or permanent destinations.
Migration, climate change and the environment are interrelated. Just as environmental degradation and disasters can cause migration, movement of people can also entail significant effects on surrounding ecosystems. This complex nexus needs to be addressed in a holistic manner, taking into account other possible mediating factors including, inter alia, human security, human and economic development, livelihood strategies and conflict. Migration often seems to be misperceived as a failure to adapt to a changing environment. Instead, migration can also be an adaptation strategy to climate and environmental change and is an essential component of the socio-environmental interactions that needs to be managed. Migration can be a coping mechanism and survival strategy for those who move. At the same time, migration, and mass migration in particular, can also have significant environmental repercussions for areas of origin, areas of destination, and the migratory routes in between and contribute to further environmental degradation.
IOM applies its comprehensive migration management approach to the complex linkages between climate change, the environment and migration. Through its activities, IOM helps to reduce vulnerability of populations exposed to environmental risk factors; assists populations on the move as a result of environmental causes; and builds the capacities of governments and other actors to face the challenge of environmental migration.
IOM's central objectives in managing environmental migration are:
IOM's involvement and interest in the field of migration and the environment is long established, but has received renewed impetus due to the increasingly irrefutable evidence surrounding climate change and its impacts. One of IOM's first publications on the issue of migration and the environment dates back to 1992. In 1996, a symposium on "Environmentally-induced Population Displacements and Environmental Impacts Resulting from Mass Migrations" co-organized by IOM, UNHCR and the Refugee Policy Group, was pioneering in its comprehensive discussion of the cycle of environmental damage and mass migration and the measures and actions that can prevent, mitigate and reverse environmental degradation causing, and resulting from, population displacements. At the same time, major natural disasters have increasingly demanded emergency and other operational responses from IOM, starting with Hurricane Mitch in 1998, and especially since the Indian Ocean Tsunami in 2004.
IOM offers a forum for as well as dialogueguidance on policies and practices appropriate to addressing the challenges facing mobile populations today, including those resulting from extreme environmental events or gradual environmental degradation. IOM has organized, co-organized and participated in numerous events, including regional and international conferences on the topic.
IOM undertakes extensive research on various aspects of the migration–environment nexus, in particular with a view towards fostering interdisciplinary approaches, improving existing data and producing policy-relevant research.
IOM has developed a wide range of operational activities over the years ranging from humanitarian response to displacement caused by natural disasters to promoting adaptation to gradual environmental degradation through migration and development activities. In general terms, IOM's response aims to increase communities' resilience to underlying risk factors and expected changes in their natural environment.
IOM is committed to close cooperation with governments, international and non-governmental organizations and other relevant stakeholders to develop more comprehensive strategies to better manage environmental migration and to address potential impacts of migration on the environment.
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Photo Credit: © UN/MINUSTAH 2008 - MHT0184 (Logan Abassi)