The aim of this paper is to develop a typology of displacement in the context of slow-onset environmental degradation linked to climate change (desertification, droughts and increasing temperatures, sea level rise (SLR), loss of biodiversity, land/forest degradation, and glacial retreat). We differentiate regions under environmental threat according to their social vulnerabilities, mobility patterns, and related policies, and identify twelve types of vulnerability/policy/mobility combinations. The paper is based on a synthesis of 321 published case studies on displacement and slow-onset environmental degradation, representing a comprehensive collection of the literature since the 1970s. We observe that vulnerability is especially critical in small island and coastal contexts, as well as in mountainous zones and desert regions. Migration processes are often not visible in areas affected by environmental degradation. When they do occur, they remain mostly internal and oriented towards cities with occasional rural-to-rural migration. Non-mobile people, as well as those who depend on natural resource industries for their livelihoods, are particularly vulnerable to climate change. Persons with lower levels of education are more likely to respond to environmental shock through short-distance migration, whereas highly educated individuals may migrate over longer distances. Policies that directly address mobility in relation to climate change—mostly through relocation—are seldom mentioned in the literature. Mobility is often perceived as a last-resort solution, whereas a growing body of research identifies mobility as an adaptation strategy.
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