Climate Change and Population Displacement

Global Context:

Climate change will increase the severity, magnitude and frequency of natural disasters, with the additional long-term threat of sea levels rising at an unpredictable rate. These impacts are already being felt around the world, with large numbers of people being displaced by crop failure, flooding, drought, and food and water insecurity. Long-term worst-case scenarios for sea level rise project massive displacement of peoples situated in shallow coastal deltas, which would, for instance, have catastrophic consequences for countries such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, Thailand and Egypt, whose populations are concentrated in such regions. The global threat of forced displacement of peoples due to climate change impacts is therefore of increasing concern. The plight of those displaced by climate change requires considered responses based on collaboration and cooperation.

It is also recognized that climate change impacts, while in some cases acting as the primary cause of displacement, are a significant contributor to the destabilization of regions already compromised by poverty and political unrest. It is important to acknowledge the complexity of these drivers, as well as the fact that some individuals may choose to move due to purely economic reasons; not all displacement is involuntary nor undesirable, especially in today’s transitory world. However, the severity of the consequences of displacement is already being experienced by many people in the developing world particularly sub-Saharan Africa, and to a much lesser extent in coastal and Arctic regions of North America.

Why Canada?

Canada’s favourable geographic position and large tracts of uninhabited space is likely to result in the country being viewed as a desirable host country for populations that face displacement due to climate change. As a significant contributor of foreign aid to developing countries, and a signatory to the Paris Climate Agreement, Canada must be prepared to scrutinize, overhaul and update Canadian immigration and foreign aid policies. It also needs to examine its domestic emergency and support services, while examining how it may collaborate with other countries to develop plans that can support collaborative responses.

Collaborative Research:

The project will engage a network of researchers from Canada with international experts from the UN and UNU to identify emerging risks and challenges associated with climate migration. Research will consider the inevitable and growing movement of populations due to issues such as drought, famine, disease, flooding, crop failure, storm surges, and biodiversity shifts. It will investigate destination country options as well as measures that can be taken to help people remain in place; these approaches include a geographic review of locations that may be either losing or gaining people within countries affected by climate change. To this end, the project partners would select target regions or countries where climate change impacts are severe and the possibility of mass migration more likely.

Project Outcomes:

  • Informing Canadian and other policy formulation processes on migration and immigration matters through evidence-based reports on policy approaches and targeted briefings for decision-makers
  • Enhanced public awareness and stakeholder engagement through multi-level stakeholder engagement and effective public outreach
  • Web and print archives as tools for public education and policy-makers’ resources
  • Creation of knowledge networks comprising key experts, decision-makers and planners