Examining the link between climate, conflict and cross-border migration

Jesus Crespo Cuaresma, Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU)
Raya Muttarak, Wittgenstein Centre (IIASA, VID/ÖAW, WU)
Guy J. Abel, Asian Demographic Research Institute

Recent media headlines, especially those on Europe’s migration crisis, often cited climate change-induced conflict in the Middle East and Africa as a major driver of the surge of migrants to Europe in the past couple of years. Establishing scientifically based link between climate change, conflict and migration is however a complex task. This requires a panel data approach accounting for potential confounding factors in order to draw causal inferences on the relationship between climate and conflict. Likewise, the study of the relationship between climate change and migration needs to control for a range of other drivers of migration including social, political, economic and demographic factors. Given the complexity in establishing connections between climate change, conflict and migration, extant empirical studies on the subject are generally organized along the twin axes of climate change and conflict, and climate change and migration. To our knowledge, empirical literature that simultaneously investigates climate change, conflict and migration is scarce. To this end, this paper aims to systematically examine the connection between climate change and conflict and explore how the two factors interplay in influencing cross-border migration. Using gravity-type model and country-fixed effects, we attempt to draw a causal link between climate, conflict and migration. Cross-border migration is estimated based on the UNHCR global bilateral international refugee flows collected annually from 1951-2014. Climatic conditions are measured as rainfall variability, temperature anomalies and natural disaster events at a country-level. We control for demographic, social, economic and political characteristics of countries of origin and destination that drive conflict as well serve as “push” and “pull” factors in determining migration. This study expects to provide a comprehensive overview of climate- and conflict-induced global migration flows and identify origin and destination areas that may need interventions.

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Presented in Session 16: Climate change, migration and urbanisation