Adapting to Climate Change through Migration

What if your hometown turned into the Sahara Desert? Would you want to move? 

According to one study, by the year 2070, 19 percent of the Earth’s surface will be uninhabitable hot zones similar to the Sahara. These future hot zones will mostly be in the Global South—western, central, and eastern Africa, South America, and Southeast Asia—many of which are populous regions. Thousands or even hundreds of thousands of people will understandably choose to move into cooler regions if climate change makes their homelands too hot to support life.  

Migration is one way people will adapt to climate change. This strategy will only be as effective as the institutions managing migration in the receiving countries. 

In this paper, researchers Justus Enninga and Nathan Goodman, compare different institutional responses to migration induced by climate change. Specifically they compare efforts to manage migration by monocentric institutions (centralized national governments) and polycentric systems (markets, communities, and local government). 

The authors find that polycentric systems allow for better adaptation when managing migration, particularly migration induced by climate change. In polycentric systems, the decision-makers are closer to the immediate problems and challenges that arise in the communities that are welcoming displaced migrants. This closeness facilitates nimbleness, experimentation, and adaptation based on the needs of the migrants and the local stakeholders. 

Enninga and Goodman encourage legal institutions to allow polycentric systems—local markets, communities, and governments—substantial space to work freely on the challenge of welcoming and assimilating migrants displaced by climate change. 

Additional Details

Read the full paper here.