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Climate change increases resource-constrained international immobility

Abstract

Migration is a widely used adaptation strategy to climate change impacts. Yet resource constraints caused by such impacts may limit the ability to migrate, thereby leading to immobility. Here we provide a quantitative, global analysis of reduced international mobility due to resource deprivation caused by climate change. We incorporate both migration dynamics and within-region income distributions in an integrated assessment model. We show that climate change induces decreases in emigration of lowest-income levels by over 10% in 2100 for medium development and climate scenarios compared with no climate change and by up to 35% for more pessimistic scenarios including catastrophic damages. This effect would leave resource-constrained populations extremely vulnerable to both subsequent climate change impacts and increased poverty.

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Fig. 1: Migration per income quintile.
Fig. 2: Damages from climate change as share of income for the poorest income quintile.
Fig. 3: Difference between remittances received and climate change damages as a share of income for the poorest income quintile.
Fig. 4: Relative effect of climate change on number of emigrants from lowest-income quintile.

Data availability

The data generated and analysed for this study have been deposited on Figshare: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.19698901.v172.

Code availability

All data were edited and analysed in Julia. The complete codes used to generate and visualize the results reported in this study have been deposited on Figshare: https://doi.org/10.6084/m9.figshare.19698901.v172.

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Acknowledgements

We thank G. Abel, M. Gidden, S. KC and P. Sauer for data and D. Anthoff and F. Errickson for support with the FUND model. H.B. gratefully acknowledges support of the Princeton School of Public and International Affairs, the High Meadows Foundation and the French Environmental Fellowship Fund at the Harvard University Center for the Environment.

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H.B., M.O. and M.F. designed research; H.B. performed research; H.B. and M.F. analysed data; and H.B., M.O. and M.F. wrote the paper.

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Correspondence to Hélène Benveniste.

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Nature Climate Change thanks Andrew Reid Bell, Marion Borderon, Barbora Šedová and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Extended data

Extended Data Fig. 1 Including international migration and remittance dynamics as well as within-region income distributions in the FUND IAM.

Dashed arrows refer to preexisting links between FUND components. We add the migration component (yellow), link it to other components, and distribute mitigation costs and damages onto income quintiles, as described by the solid arrows. Arrows colour code is as follows: light blue for population dynamics, blue-green for income dynamics, green for emissions, dark blue for temperature; corresponding pictograms are displayed accordingly. Figure adapted from27.

Extended Data Fig. 2 The five narratives of the Shared Socioeconomic Pathways (SSP) and their embedded assumptions on international migration.

Left panel: reprinted from70, with permission from Elsevier. Right panel: data from63. Figure adapted from27.

Extended Data Fig. 3 Relative effect of climate change on quintile-specific number of emigrants for SSP2 coupled to RCP4.5.

Results for each of the 16 regions in FUND, for the period 2015–2100. colour code indicates income quintiles, with lowest quintiles in blue shades and highest quintiles in yellow shades; shapes indicate the three variants for the income elasticity of damages: damages proportional (triangles), independent (circles), and inversely proportional to income (squares). CC stands for climate change.

Extended Data Fig. 4 Relative effect of climate change on quintile-specific number of emigrants for SSP3 coupled to RCP7.0.

Results for each of the 16 regions in FUND, for the period 2015–2100. colour code indicates income quintiles, with lowest quintiles in blue shades and highest quintiles in yellow shades; shapes indicate the three variants for the income elasticity of damages: damages proportional (triangles), independent (circles), and inversely proportional to income (squares). CC stands for climate change.

Extended Data Fig. 5 Relative effect of climate change on number of emigrants from lowest income for damages proportional to income.

Results in the 16 FUND regions for 2100. Left panel: SSP2 coupled to RCP4.5. Right panel: SSP3 coupled to RCP7.0. Top panel: results with baseline damages calibration. Bottom panel: results with catastrophic damages. CC stands for climate change.

Extended Data Fig. 6 Relative effect of climate change on number of emigrants from lowest income for damages independent of income.

Results in the 16 FUND regions for 2100. Left panel: SSP2 coupled to RCP4.5. Right panel: SSP3 coupled to RCP7.0. Top panel: results with baseline damages calibration. Bottom panel: results with catastrophic damages. CC stands for climate change.

Supplementary information

Supplementary information

Section A: supplementary figures for Methods and Materials, Figs. A.1–A.5 and Table A.1. Section B: supplementary figures for additional results, Figs. B.1–B.14, Table B.1. Section C: supplementary tables for Methods and Materials, Tables C.1–C.2. Section D: supplementary tables for robustness checks, Tables D.1–D.10. Section E: literature review. Section F: additional details on Methods.

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Benveniste, H., Oppenheimer, M. & Fleurbaey, M. Climate change increases resource-constrained international immobility. Nat. Clim. Chang. 12, 634–641 (2022). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41558-022-01401-w

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