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Imaginary Numbers of Climate Change Migrants?

Institute for Global Health and Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction, University College London, London WC1E 6BT, UK
University of Agder, 4630 Kristiansand, Norway
Soc. Sci. 2019, 8(5), 131;
Received: 19 February 2019 / Revised: 17 March 2019 / Accepted: 23 April 2019 / Published: 27 April 2019
PDF [346 KB, uploaded 13 May 2019]


Within the extensive scientific and policy discussions about climate change migrants, detailed analyses continue to highlight the lack of evidence thus far for climate change directly causing migration. To understand better how climate change might or might not lead to migration, this paper explores possibilities for developing a robust, repeatable, and verifiable method to count or calculate the number of people migrating or not migrating due to climate change. The discussion starts by examining definitions of “climate change” and “migration”, then looking at how to determine numbers of climate change migrants based on those definitions. These points lead to descriptions of the subjectivity and arbitrariness of the decisions needed for counting or calculating climate change migrants and non-migrants. While the scientific study of working out numbers of climate change migrants and non-migrants is challenging and interesting, especially due to its complexity, changing baselines alongside legitimate concerns about necessary assumptions lead to questions regarding the usefulness of the calculations for policy and action. Ultimately, labelling, counting, and calculating climate change migrants and non-migrants depend on political choices, so any numbers reached might not be scientifically robust. Improved understanding of people’s motivations for migrating and not migrating under different circumstances, including under climate change and perceptions thereof, would be preferable to a starting point assuming that climate change inevitably causes migration. View Full-Text
Keywords: climate change; climigration; environmental change; migration; mobility; refugees climate change; climigration; environmental change; migration; mobility; refugees
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited (CC BY 4.0).

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Kelman, I. Imaginary Numbers of Climate Change Migrants? Soc. Sci. 2019, 8, 131.

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