Migration and Climate Change (Research and Policy)

Indian economy is inextricably tied to climate-sensitive sectors like agriculture, which are already facing multiple stresses, and global environmental change could further exacerbate these stresses.  Migration and especially internal migration, is already a challenging question and the current discourse does not adequately address pertinent issues such as seasonal and circular migration, portability of rights and social entitlements, lack of formal residency rights, lack of identity proof, lack of political representation, low-paid, insecure or hazardous work and extreme vulnerability of women and children to trafficking and sex exploitation. Global environmental change could aggravate the situation. 

India has a long, densely populated low lying coastline, an under-developed and fragile Himalayas, a vast arid region. Water stress and access to non-polluted fresh water is already a significant problem in large parts of India, which negatively impacts on agricultural production. Areas of North West India dependent on intensive agriculture are expected to be significantly affected and changing precipitation regimes will impact food security. Rising sea level will affect coastal regions where several megacities, such as Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai, are located. Flooding along the major rivers along with storm surge impacts and greater salt water intrusion is likely to affect a large number of people due to high population density and poor urban planning. Further, the Himalayan region that has 51 million people practicing hill agriculture whose vulnerability will increase as a result of melting glaciers coupled with an intensification of the monsoon. The 4th IPCC Assessment Report predicts a median temperature increase of 3.3 degree C, a general weakening of the monsoon system, a decrease in the number of rainy days and an increase in the intensity of extreme rain events for India.

The findings have implications for a broad range of policy areas in India, well beyond the migration and environmental spheres. These include sustainable development, urban planning, climate change adaptation, eradication of poverty, human rights, social protection (welfare schemes), employment, public health and humanitarian assistance.The international study titled “Migration and Global Environmental Change”, published by Foresight in 2011, reveals that the major challenges associated with migration and environmental changes have been underestimated. By focusing solely on the population that might leave vulnerable areas, we risk neglecting those that will be ‘trapped’ and those that will actually move towards danger. Development policies will be better able to deliver if they take account of the links between global environmental change and migration, as well as recognize that migration can be part of the solution. 

Download the Summary Report of the National Workshop on Migration and Global Environmental Change in India.

Watch "Changing Climate, Moving People" a 35-minute film made by The Energy Resource Institute (TERI) for UNESCO. 


For further information contact:

Ms Marina Faetanini
Section Chief and Programme Specialist in Social and Human Sciences
UNESCO New Delhi Cluster Office

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