New evidence from India proves climate change driving migration

Press release, 26 October 2021
More than two thirds of households blame drought, floods, heatwaves and hailstorms.

Climate change is a major factor in people’s decision to migrate, according to new research conducted in India by IIED, settling the debate over whether migration can be linked to extreme weather events ahead of crucial climate change talks in Glasgow that start next week.

People from more than two thirds of households surveyed across three Indian states for the report 'Connecting the dots: climate change, migration and social protection' pointed to drought as a reason they migrated to seek work elsewhere. Almost a quarter listed flooding and nearly 10% listed hailstorms.

Whether and to what extent migration can be linked to climate change has been a highly contentious issue. Using a migration intention model, researchers statistically proved that climate change is driving migration, especially when combined with other socio-economic factors, like education and family-size.

Ritu Bharadwaj, a senior researcher for IIED, said: “Droughts, rising sea levels, and flooding are heaping extra pressure onto people who are already struggling to get by, forcing them from their homes in order to survive.

“We cannot afford to pretend this isn’t happening; we need to plan for the hundreds of millions of people who it is predicted will have to migrate in the coming decades due to climate change.”

Researchers interviewed people from over 1,000 households from the mostly rural states of Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Many of them already migrated seasonally when there was little work in agriculture or fisheries, to instead labour on construction sites or in cotton fields in Maharashtra, Gujarat and Delhi. But even accounting for other factors, like levels of education and the size of different households, climate change was increasingly a reason why people decided to move to find work.

In 2020 alone, India suffered its worst locust attack in decades, three cyclones, a nationwide heat wave, and flooding that killed hundreds and forced thousands more to evacuate. The country’s first ever climate change assessment suggests things are only going to get worse, with temperatures predicted to rise by 4.4°C by the end of the century.

Although the study was conducted in India, the findings are relevant to many developing countries, where climate change and extreme weather events exacerbate the situation for vulnerable communities whose members are already struggling to make a living.

Countries need to start planning for climate-induced migration and taking pre-emptive action to move people to safety before disasters strike. Their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDC) – individual nations’ plans for tackling climate change – need to detail how they can make migration safe for people forced to move by climate change, including portability of their social protection entitlements.

Vulnerable, low-income countries will need funding from wealthier nations to achieve this, including from the Green Climate Fund and Adaptation Fund.

Media enquiries

For more information or to request an interview, contact Sarah Grainger via email sarah.grainger@iied.org or 07803 116434.

Notes to editors

  • 'Connecting the dots: climate change, migration and social protection' was written by Ritu Bharadwaj, a senior researcher in the Climate Change research group at IIED; Dr Somnath Hazra, consulting economist and visiting faculty, School of Oceanographic Studies; Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India; Mohan Reddy, national consultant in the Climate Change research group at IIED; Shouvik Das, PhD researcher, School of Oceanographic Studies, Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India; and Daljeet Kaur, a climate and environment advisor for the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office.