University of Sussex
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The potential influence of climate change on migratory behaviour - a study of drought, hurricanes and migration in Mexico

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posted on 2023-06-08, 11:18 authored by Kerstin Schmidt-Verkerk
This thesis develops a conceptual and methodological approach to understanding how future climate change is likely to affect migration, and then applies this approach to explore the likely effects of climate change on different migration flows in and from Mexico. Scientific and policy interest in the climate change-migration nexus has been growing over the last decade, yet empirical results remain inconclusive. Existing approaches are often conceptually and methodologically unconvincing as they assume a linear relationship between climate change and migration, or try to separate climate stressors from other factors involved in migration decisions. Furthermore, most current research into the climate-migration nexus has focused on a relatively simple framing of localised environmental pressures forcing people to migrate. In contrast, this thesis acknowledges the complexity of migration and suggests that climate change is likely to affect factors involved in migration decisions at the local and the global level. It develops a more realistic understanding of the potential effect of climate change on migration by examining the impact of the local and global consequences of climate change on livelihood stressors and other factors involved in migration decisions. This thesis adopts a qualitative and comparative approach to illustrate this concept, based on fieldwork in Zacatecas and Veracruz, two Mexican states with different migration profiles and different local climate stressors. It analyses the factors involved in migration decisions, which include livelihood stressors but also networks, recruiters and individual agency. A risk matrix is then developed to explore the climate sensitivity of the various factors that influence internal and international migration flows. It analyses the extent to which each factor is likely to be affected by climate change in combination with the relevance of this factor for the migration decision-making process. This approach allows identifying those factors that, affected by future climate change, have the highest potential to impact on existing migration patterns. It also allows a comparison between different migration flows. Results suggest that climate change is likely to have moderate effects on migration, mainly on internal rural flows. Alarmist predictions of large numbers of 'climate change refugees' are thus inappropriate and policies should instead focus on the factors projected to impact most on migration under scenarios of future climate change. Policies should also aim at mitigating the negative effects of climate change on people's livelihoods and at protecting migrants and non-migrants


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  • eng


University of Sussex

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