Given the complexity of the relationship between environmental factors and the movement of people, evidence on how the shocks and stresses caused by climate change might influence migration varies and estimates of the numbers affected differ widely from source to source. The limited availability of reliable data and resulting knowledge gaps therefore present an important obstacle to moving forward in this area as sound data are key to understanding the complex relationship between migration and the environment and to effective policy and programme development.

The research community has an important role to play in defining the key priority issues to be addressed, based on expertise and sound knowledge, as well as in providing forward-looking options for action. Innovative research methods, more primary, comparable and accurate data collection, empirical studies and systematic and cross-cutting multi-disciplinary approaches to migration and the environment are needed to inform policymakers and practitioners.

IOM has assumed a leading role in furthering research on the linkages between migration, climate change and the environment. Some of IOM's principal publications on the issue are:

IOM has developed a Research Agenda which attempts to enhance the knowledge base in the following areas:

  • Conceptualizing migration and the environment: what are the definitions and concepts needed for both research and policy, what are their strengths and limitations, how can they be improved;
  • Data collection and estimates: how many people will migrate and where, how can climate models be improved and account for the multi-causality of migration, how can migration and environment datasets be enhanced and/or harmonized, how can household surveys be better utilized;
  • Chronic environmental degradation and natural disasters: to what extent is the environment the primary driver, what migration patterns emerge in response to different environmental stressors, what socio-economic factors need to be considered with regard to vulnerability (who migrates and who does not), how can migrants assist in efforts to build resilience back home (remittances, social capital, etc), what can be learned from analyzing “hotspots” and “tipping points”;
  • Managing environmental migration: how can research be more effectively linked to policy, what policies and initiatives currently exist to address internal and international migration from prevention and mitigation policies to return and reintegration, what lessons can be learned from existing government responses, how can polices reduce vulnerability, how can migration be used as part of adaptation strategies; and
  • Capacity building: how can capacity be built, in particular in developing countries, to collect and analyze data and inform policy makers.

The agenda was devised at the Research workshop on migration and the environment: developing a global research agenda  held in Munich in April 2008 co-organized by IOM and UNU-EHS in collaboration with UNEP.