Emerging migration flows in a changing climate in dryland Africa


Fears of the movement of large numbers of people as a result of changes in the environment were first voiced in the 1980s (ref. 1). Nearly thirty years later the numbers likely to migrate as a result of the impacts of climate change are still, at best, guesswork2. Owing to the high prevalence of rainfed agriculture, many livelihoods in sub-Saharan African drylands are particularly vulnerable to changes in climate. One commonly adopted response strategy used by populations to deal with the resulting livelihood stress is migration. Here, we use an agent-based model developed around the theory of planned behaviour to explore how climate and demographic change, defined by the ENSEMBLES project3 and the United Nations Statistics Division of the Department of Economic and Social Affairs4, combine to influence migration within and from Burkina Faso. The emergent migration patterns modelled support framing the nexus of climate change and migration as a complex adaptive system5. Using this conceptual framework, we show that the extent of climate-change-related migration is likely to be highly nonlinear and the extent of this nonlinearity is dependent on population growth; therefore supporting migration policy interventions based on both demographic and climate change adaptation.

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Figure 1: ABM simulated and EMIUB observed migration flows in and from Burkina Faso for the period 1970–1994.
Figure 2: Simulated differences in the percentage of the original population migrating under different climate conditions and that assuming the past climate.
Figure 3: Simulated relationship between the percentages of the original population that migrates under future climate change compared with present climate conditions.


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We thank B. Schoumaker for sharing the EMIUB database and C. Caminade for providing the ENSEMBLES data. This work was supported in part by an ESRC/NERC Interdisciplinary Studentship.

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All authors contributed extensively to the conception of the ABM and the analysis of the results. C.D.S. built and tested the ABM and D.R.K. wrote the bulk of the paper.

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Correspondence to Dominic R. Kniveton.

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The authors declare no competing financial interests.

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Kniveton, D., Smith, C. & Black, R. Emerging migration flows in a changing climate in dryland Africa. Nature Clim Change 2, 444–447 (2012). https://doi.org/10.1038/nclimate1447

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