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Climate migration

Published
  • Quartz Obsession — Climate migration — Card 1

    Sea level rise, sweltering temperatures, parching drought, intense wildfires, catastrophic flooding, powerful hurricanes—the effects of climate change are widespread and varied across the globe. These events, which are becoming more severe, don’t just threaten animals and plants that are rapidly going extinct. They threaten humans, too, and are expected to have devastating impacts on some of the most populous parts of the world, including places humans have called home for millennia. Climate change could trigger the largest human migration to have ever occurred. In fact, it’s already begun.

    Some experts and policymakers are starting to plan for this new reality of mass migration. But will new destinations be ready when the migrants show up? Let’s get a move on.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Climate migration — Card 2

    2°: The Paris Agreement’s goal for maximum global temperature increase

    3°C–4°C: Estimated global temperature increase by 2050 at current carbon emission levels

    68%: Increase in percent of the global population expected to be living in cities by 2050, compared to 2018

    200 million: Climate migrants that could be displaced by 2050, according to a 1990 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change estimate

    25 million–1 billion: IPCC’s most recent estimate of climate migrants by 2050

    143 million: Climate migrants that could be displaced by 2050 in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America, and South Asia alone, according to a 2018 World Bank study

    150 million: People currently living in areas that will be underwater by 2050, according to a 2019 study

    17.2 million: People displaced due to natural disasters in 2018 alone

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  • Quartz Obsession — Climate migration — Card 3

    Human migration is nothing new. Since humans first left Africa about 60,000 years ago, we have moved around the planet in search of opportunity, of places that offer better ways to meet our needs, of peace and prosperity. Today, many people are forced from their homes because of conflicts like wars, or because environmental events, both acute and incremental, make it untenable to live there. And the movements are happening faster—whereas it took several thousand years for humans to first make their way around the globe, migrants forced to move due to climate change are expected to mobilize by the millions within this century.

    The sheer pace and scale of these migrations could shift countries’ priorities. For some, an influx of migrants could put unprecedented strain on countries’ infrastructure, on their economies, and on communities forced to uproot themselves (little by little, or all at once). For others, a moment of mass movement could be an opportunity to create a positive economic and cultural shift.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Climate migration — Card 4

    “Men stood by their fences and looked at the ruined corn, drying fast now, only a little green showing through the film of dust. The men were silent and they did not move often. And the women came out of the houses to stand beside their men—to feel whether this time the men would break.”

    The Grapes of Wrath, a story of environmental migrants during the Dust Bowl, published in 1939

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  • Quartz Obsession — Climate migration — Card 5

    What should we call people forced to leave their homes due to climate change? While some might push to dub them “refugees,” there are good reasons to avoid this terminology, according to a 2019 blog post by Dina Ionesco, the head of the Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division at the UN Migration Agency. The word “refugee” has a specific legal meaning that may not encompass the full experience of those forced to leave their homes due to climate change. Most climate migrants stay within their country, Ionesco points out, while migrants only become refugees when they leave their home nation. Additionally, climate change may not be the only reason they left home, which could make it harder for someone to qualify for a designated legal status.

    That doesn’t mean governments shouldn’t prepare for people displaced by climate change, both from their own nations and from others. Though some cities have begun to ramp up climate mitigation efforts such as higher sea walls and even moving entire towns, few governments are actively crafting policies intended to address the needs of those displaced by climate change, or to prepare those places that may become their destinations.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Climate migration — Card 6

    Heat is already the most deadly weather-related event in the US, killing 12,000 people every year.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Climate migration — Card 8

    When crops fail, people move to urban centers within their own countries. When it gets too hot—or the nearest megacity is too difficult to live in—they may migrate poleward and across borders. This is already happening as migrants from Central America make their way north to Mexico and the US. Some may leave on their own terms and make conscious choices about where they go; others may be forced out under the duress of an acute natural disaster, and will flee to safety wherever they can find it.

    Cities caught unprepared could find infrastructure like sewage systems, electrical grids, housing, and public transit further taxed, perhaps dangerously so. Some, however, are preparing to become climate havens, well-situated cities where migrants can find work and a safe place to live. Some early US contenders, such as Buffalo, New York and Duluth, Minnesota, are likely to be spared the most destructive effects of climate change—they won’t become too hot to be unlivable, they’re not likely to face frequent floods or wildfires, they have ample access to fresh water. What’s more, these “Rust Belt” cities have housing and industrial spaces left vacant.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Climate migration — Card 9

    It’s 2057 and no life has been untouched by the realities of a warming globe. But mere decades ago, at the dawn of the 21st century, Americans were only just waking to this truth.

    Other places turned climate migrants away, but Leeside opened its doors. And after years of implementing innovative policies benefiting both the environment and the city’s residents, the United Nations inaugurated Leeside as the United States’ first Green Haven in 2035. Now, the city is recognized as a model of successful adaptation—physical, economic, and social—to a world in which cities and their communities are transformed by the millions seeking shelter from the storm.

    Quartz presents its special project Welcome to Green Haven, which jumps ahead to how things could go if cities in our present start planning for our future.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Climate migration — Card 10

    Potential climate havens in the US are already seeing housing costs rise faster than the national average.

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  • Quartz Obsession — Climate migration — Card 12

    While climate migration is a long-foreseen crisis that will play out over decades, this week Quartz’s crystal ball is tracking a more recent phenomenon that is likely to explode in the immediate future: the retail trading boom. It’s too soon to call it an outright bubble—a confounding surge in prices before the crash—but research suggests we should be vigilant.

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