Climate and Human Migration: Past Experiences, Future Challenges

Author:   Robert A. McLeman
Publisher:   Cambridge University Press
Reviewer:   Dorjay Namgail

Climate and Human Migration: Past Experiences, Future Challenges

McLeman, Robert A. (2013), Climate and Human Migration: Past Experiences, Future Challenges, Cambridge University Press, ISBN 978-1-107-60670-8, 289 p

The main aim of the book Climate and Human Migration: Past Experiences, Future Challenges is to understand how climate change is affecting human migration around the world and how climatic events like droughts, flooding, and hurricanes contribute to migration. The author agrees that climate change does influence human migration and it could cause large-scale population displacements.

This book is divided into 8 chapters. In chapter one, the author introduces the relationship between climate change and migration. He makes it clear that climate change is cited less often as a cause driving migration than other reasons such as family and work opportunities. Nevertheless, climate change is emerging as an important factor driving migration in the scholarly literature. Some basic premises underpinning this book are that the socioeconomic factors and climatic events in concert influence the decision to migrate. People use migration as an adaptation strategy to climatic variability and change. And in order to understand better the relationship between climate change and migration, the author suggests, we can utilise the concepts and theories used in other disciplines.

The second chapter addresses the causes of migration. The author demonstrates that various disciplines define the migration phenomena from different perspectives. According to him, no single theory can explain the phenomenon of human migration- it is a complex process and affected by many factors. The author suggest that a combination of existing theories, including theories analysing climate change, would be helpful in broader understanding of the phenomena of migration. The author explains that not all migrants exert the same level of agency over their migration choices, agency offers a broad framework for categorising migrants. Low agency migrants are those who are forced to migrate due to war, persecution and climate change and high agency migrants are economic migrants who migrate mainly to seek better opportunities and lifestyle.

The third chapter concerns with migration in the context of vulnerability and adaptation to climatic variability and change. The author explains the usage and the origin of vulnerability and adaptation concepts and its ramifications. The author describes that the decision to migrate is determined by the level of exposure and adaptive capacity which is largely shaped by cultural, economic, political and social forces operating at different temporal, spatial and structural level. The author notes that migration is often a difficult choice because it entails uncertainty, disruption, financial cost, and emotional distress therefore migration is often taken as a last resort after exhausting other choices.

Chapters 4, 5, 6 and 7 analyse how extreme weather events, such as flooding, hurricanes, rising sea level, and extreme heat or cold, influence migration all over the world with case studies. The author examines how human and physical processes interact to make people susceptible to catastrophic weather events, paying particular attention to those relationships that have the greatest potential to encourage migration. According to the author, food security is a great concern in most of the developing countries which mainly rely on monsoon. The climate change exacerbates the situation as La Nina and El Nino events have worldwide effects. Numerous responses and activities are incorporated into rural household income sources during months of flooding and drought in order to offset temporary hardship and take advantage of possibilities, typically in the neighbouring urban areas. The author notes that migration is a common form of adaptation employed by rural populations in dry land and drought-prone areas. Drought may push pastoralists into wandering farther afield in search of water and grazing. Permanent migration out of a drought-stricken area is generally seen as a last resort adaptation. Many islands and atolls are going to disappear if the sea levels rise at the current rate.

Chapter 8 deals with the emergent issues in Climate and migration research. The author acknowledge that there is a lack of empirical studies analysing how climate change is contributing to migration. The author discusses how the interaction of climate change and migration can create conflict political instability and food insecurity as a result of unexpected outcome of climate change. The data presented in the book also suggest that the number of people exposed to climate change is increasing significantly over the years.

Overall, the book is full of insights with case studies showing how climate change is influencing migration and the likely future scenario. Generally, most of the studies on migration focus on the socio-economic aspects and very few studies on the relationship between migration and climate change. This book contributes in filling this gap to some extent. In the last decade, there have been significant studies published in physical science in an effort to understand climate change and it is now established that anthropogenic activities significantly contribute to climate change. The author underlines the need to conduct more empirical research on the topic. A significant contribution of this book is that it provides an overview of how climate change influence migration, it presents a number of case studies in support, it also exposes how people from the lower strata suffers the most.

The author has ignored the opportunities that a warm climate presents. There are studies that suggests warm climate could help countries in the temperate and cold regions in lowering energy consumption, better agricultural yields, increase agriculture and horticulture production and these in turn may lessen the migration of people from these regions. The author also could have included as a case study of the Himalayan region, which is the origin of many rivers. Rapid melting and retreating of glaciers in the Himalayan region could contribute to drought-related migration in future. It could affect the livelihoods of billions across Asia.


Dorjay Namgail is currently a Ph.D Scholar at the Department of Sociology at Panjab University, Chandigarh, India. He has completed his Post Graduation in Sociology with specialization in Urban Sociology from the same university. His research interest lies in Rural to Urban Migration, Network Migration, Social Change and Climate Change in the Himalayan region, Email: [email protected]


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