Monday, June 6, 2011

Climate change and migration

In some commentators the recent news about fast rise of CO2 emissions has elicited a return to the pre-Copenhagen apocalyptic rhetoric. Central elements are the 450pmm CO2 concentrations to avoid 2 degrees C rise of global average temperatures which is believed to be the absolute upper limit before climate change enters a runaway process towards the final collapse.

Part of this rhetoric is the impact climate change will have on poorer, and richer nations, especially in terms of mass migration. It is assumed that people who leave their homes in Asia or Africa because their livelihoods are affected will come to the Western World, causing problems. In this part of the narrative, climate change is mainly a socio-economic problem which affects the rich countries most. Lord Stern has recently commented in such a way. He told the Guardian: “Such warming would disrupt the lives and livelihoods of hundreds of millions of people across the planet, leading to widespread mass migration and conflict. That is a risk any sane person would seek to drastically reduce.”
It is not clear if this is an honest assessment or a ploy to make climate policies more digestible to decision makers and the electorate. In other words, this might be an appeal to fears about being 'swamped' by poor immigrants. 
Studies show that wild predictions about 200m climate refugees by mid-century are just that, wild predictions. There are two reasons for a much less dramatic assessment. One is the determination of displaced people to return to their homes when floods recede. This means that numbers of migrants might be much lower as predicted. 
The other is the sheer economic benefit mass migration brigs to the economy, worldwide (Exceptional People: How migration shaped our world and will define our future. By Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron and Meera Balarajan. Princeton University Press; reviewed in The Economist May28th). If mass migration is a boon to mankind, there would be one less killer argument in the apocalyptic repertoire, it seems.

3 comments:

Nils said...

I hate to bring this to you, but the hundreds of people drowning every week in the Mediterranean probably see this "boon" differently. As long as we sheer free movement of goods and hate free movement of people across borders, rhetorically using the positive sides of migration against climate alarmism seems misplaced. Using the good sides of migration to get better migration policies, on the other hand, could be pretty useful.

Reiner Grundmann said...

Nils:
Not sure what you want to say. The fact that people are determined to emigrate cannot be weighed up against the rough and dangerous journey--this just shows their determination.

Nils said...

Reiner, I may have read something in your article you did not intend to put in there. I get it that your point is as follows: Climate refugees are a concept used to induce fear in order to increase acceptance of GHG emission-reducing policies. However, not only may the number of possible climate refugees by 2050 be exaggerated, but migration also brings a lot of benefits.

It is that latter point I quibble with, while I completely agree with your comment #2. It seemed to me that you were using the global benefits of migration as a reason for not worrying too much about migration at all. To the people risking their lives in tiny boats, however, this is not of much help. So while you in effect said that people boosting the "apocalyptic repertoire" thrive on fear of mass migrations, thereby ignoring the benefits of that migratory movements, you seem to have missed the downsides of migration, which would call for a decent migration policy within Europe first. It would take me a long time to start thinking about the relationship between public climate discourse and migration patterns when there's obviously much more serious problems at hand. But maybe that is just a misreading of your article?