Skip to main content
The Globe and Mail
Support Quality Journalism.
The Globe and Mail
First Access to Latest
Investment News
Collection of curated
e-books and guides
Inform your decisions via
Globe Investor Tools
Just$1.99
per week
for first 24 weeks

Enjoy unlimited digital access
Enjoy Unlimited Digital Access
Get full access to globeandmail.com
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
Just $1.99 per week for the first 24 weeks
var select={root:".js-sub-pencil",control:".js-sub-pencil-control",open:"o-sub-pencil--open",closed:"o-sub-pencil--closed"},dom={},allowExpand=!0;function pencilInit(o){var e=arguments.length>1&&void 0!==arguments[1]&&arguments[1];select.root=o,dom.root=document.querySelector(select.root),dom.root&&(dom.control=document.querySelector(select.control),dom.control.addEventListener("click",onToggleClicked),setPanelState(e),window.addEventListener("scroll",onWindowScroll),dom.root.removeAttribute("hidden"))}function isPanelOpen(){return dom.root.classList.contains(select.open)}function setPanelState(o){dom.root.classList[o?"add":"remove"](select.open),dom.root.classList[o?"remove":"add"](select.closed),dom.control.setAttribute("aria-expanded",o)}function onToggleClicked(){var l=!isPanelOpen();setPanelState(l)}function onWindowScroll(){window.requestAnimationFrame(function() {var l=isPanelOpen(),n=0===(document.body.scrollTop||document.documentElement.scrollTop);n||l||!allowExpand?n&&l&&(allowExpand=!0,setPanelState(!1)):(allowExpand=!1,setPanelState(!0))});}pencilInit(".js-sub-pencil",!1); // via darwin-bg var slideIndex = 0; carousel(); function carousel() { var i; var x = document.getElementsByClassName("subs_valueprop"); for (i = 0; i < x.length; i++) { x[i].style.display = "none"; } slideIndex++; if (slideIndex> x.length) { slideIndex = 1; } x[slideIndex - 1].style.display = "block"; setTimeout(carousel, 2500); } //

A general view of Keur Massar, flooded by heavy rains, in Senegal on Sept. 16, 2020.

CHRISTOPHE VAN DER PERRE/Reuters

The world is likely to suffer a lot of destruction, disruption, economic and political instability and death as a result of rising global temperatures and ocean levels, even if we’re able to keep atmospheric warming to 2 degrees.

One thing we’re not going to encounter, however, is mass immigration across international borders. “Climate migration,” scholars of the subject tend to agree, is not something that will happen internationally on any significant scale, even under the worst imaginable projections. “Climate refugees” are not a plausible future problem for any developed country.

You may have been led to believe otherwise. A startling range of international organizations and publications have issued reports and alarmist stories based on the assumption that the millions of people whose lands will be hurt by climate change are going to respond by fleeing to another country.

Story continues below advertisement

United Nations agencies have embarrassed themselves by predicting climate migrations that never materialize. One charity predicts that a billion people will be displaced by 2050; a news report last year amplified that assumption to 1.5 billion. In July, The New York Times Magazine ran a cover story that observed (correctly) that “billions of people” will have their livelihoods hurt by global warming, and then inferred that most of them will become migrants.

The renowned Dutch migration scholar Hein de Haas warned recently that these studies and forecasts lack any credibility because they “are not based on fact and scientific knowledge. They either have no scientific basis at all, or reflect extremely simplistic quasi-scientific reasoning.”

In fact, the scholarly community has come together to warn, with increasing urgency, that the notion of “climate migration” is false and dangerous.

Last November, 31 of the world’s most respected climate scholars published a paper in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change warning against “misleading claims about mass migration induced by climate change” which, they said, continue to circulate in both academia and policy circles without any scientific foundation. Although climate change will indeed threaten lives, they agreed, the notion that a warming climate and rising ocean levels will produce “climate refugees” is a “false narrative” driven by political motives.

Dr. de Haas outlined those motives: “For left-wing groups, it serves to raise attention to the issue of climate change... For right-wing groups, it serves to raise the spectre of future mass migration, and the need to step up border controls.”

Earlier this year, the world’s leading migration scholars published the sixth edition of the standard textbook on the subject, The Age of Migration. Though their work is otherwise deeply concerned about both refugees and climate change, they included a new chapter on “climate migration,” which warns that the concept contradicts everything that actually is known about human responses to climate shocks and disasters.

In the world of actual knowledge, the last 10 years have seen an unprecedented amount of serious, well-funded study into the question of what families and communities in climate-devastated places are going to do when their livelihoods turn into ocean or desert. While the answers are varied and often disturbing, one thing people almost never do under such circumstances is move far away.

Story continues below advertisement

The definitive work on climate migration remains the Foresight Report, commissioned in 2011 by Britain’s Government Office for Science, which commissioned more than 80 studies in multiple disciplines. It found that climate will sometimes have an impact on local migration. But that impact is quite likely to be negative – that is, climate change will often prevent people from migrating. Not only that, but it found that when regions suffer climate devastation, people are equally likely to migrate into those regions.

In 2018, the Migration Policy Institute conducted a comprehensive review of all the research evidence on climate and migration. It found that climate shocks are highly likely to reduce a community’s likelihood of moving (by hurting their ability to afford to migrate); when they do use migration as a survival strategy, it’s almost always within the local region.

None of that should have been a surprise. The one thing we’ve long known about immigrants and refugees is that they’re products not of ruin and absolute poverty but of comparative prosperity – and thus ability to move – within their communities.

There will be a lot of human migration during the coming decades – most of it regional or internal – and the small number moving to faraway cities because of climate devastation will be greatly outnumbered by those making exactly the same journey simply in order to have a better life.

The fact is that people who live in highly climate-vulnerable regions, where incomes tend to be low anyway, really ought to be migrating – and countries such as Canada could use them. Rather than spreading false alarm about desperate hordes headed for our borders, we ought to be thinking of ways to encourage and make possible climate migration. The world would be better off if it really was a thing.

Keep your Opinions sharp and informed. Get the Opinion newsletter. Sign up today.

Your Globe

Build your personal news feed

  1. Follow topics and authors relevant to your reading interests.
  2. Check your Following feed daily, and never miss an article. Access your Following feed from your account menu at the top right corner of every page.

Follow the author of this article:

Follow topics related to this article:

View more suggestions in Following Read more about following topics and authors
Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

To view this site properly, enable cookies in your browser. Read our privacy policy to learn more.
How to enable cookies