Climate Change, Developing Countries/Regions, & Migration

June 16, 2015

This resource consists of maps and texts about climate change and its impact on migration. The module's goal is to reveal how less developed regions such as Africa suffer disproportionately from climate change and to stimulate critical thinking about possible ways to mitigate the harmful effects of climate change.

This lesson addresses state teaching standards:
V. GEOGRAPHY D. Interconnectedness: Students will understand and analyze examples of the impacts of natural hazards on human activities and land use.


A 2007 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), a collaborative team of international experts and government agencies that assesses the latest scientific knowledge on climate, asserted that the warming of the Earth's climate system is "unequivocal." Climate change affects different regions in different ways, and less industrialized regions become particularly vulnerable to climate change impacts, such as rising sea levels, soil erosion, floods, droughts, famine, deforestation, and desertification.

PDF iconreport published in Nature in 2005 points out that sub-Sarahran Africa is at highest risk for climate-related health problems. Climate change also exacerbates the long-standing problems in Africa, such as water and food insecurity, conflict and poverty. For example, food production is expected to halve by 2020, and 250 million people–over 25 percent of Africa's population–will not have easy access to water.

Climate change, together with other social, economic and political tensions, can also disrupt livelihood and serve as a "push" factor for people's migration to seek better living conditions, either domestically or in another country. While scholars have PDF icondifferent perspectives on the impacts of climate change on migration, it has been widely accepted that the potential for climate change to increase migration deserves careful consideration and policy attention. It has become an enormous ethical global imperative that developed countries take a leading role in reducing climate change impacts and promoting sustainable and equal development.


The following sources show how less developed regions suffer disproportionately from climate change and suggest possible solutions to mitigate the threats of climate change.

  1. Total greenhouse gas emissions in 2000 by country.
    Greenhouse Gas Emissions
    Citation: Basu, Paroma. "Third World Bears Brunt of Global Warming Impacts." University of Wisconsin-Madison Online News, November 16, 2005. The map was created by a team of climate and health scientists from UW-Madison and World Health Organization.
  2. Estimated deaths attributed to climate change in 2000 by subregion

    Estimated Deaths by Subregion
    Citation: Basu, Paroma. "Third World Bears Brunt of Global Warming Impacts." University of Wisconsin-Madison Online News, November 16, 2005. Drawing from date from the World Health Organization, this map was created by a team of climate and health scientists from UW-Madison and World Health Organization.​
  3. A news report from Voice of America (VOA) discussing how climate change drives migration from sub-Saharan Africa.
    Palus, Nancy. "PDF iconExperts Say Climate Change Drives Migration in Sub-Saharan Africa." Voice of America News Online, March 20, 2008.
  4. An excerpt from a migration expert's comments on the relationship between climate change and forced migration and the possible ways to reduce or eliminate forced migration.
    PDF iconExcerpts from Making Sense of the Debate

Discussion Questions

  1. According to the two maps, what are the countries and regions with large greenhouse gas emissions? What regions have the largest numbers of deaths attributed to climate change? Why is Africa most vulnerable to climate change?
  2. What social impacts does climate change have on Africa? What is the impact on migration? Why are women most affected?
  3. According to Castles, what are the root causes of forced migration due to climate change and other factors? What do you think can be done to reduce forced migration and eliminate such root causes (consider international and national levels, as well as individuals such as you and I in our daily life)?

Suggested Readings

Larry, M.L., O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson, Eds. Climate Change 2007: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007. 

Piguet, Etienne. "Climate Change and Forced Migration: How Can International Policy Respond to Climate-induced Displacement?" Geneva: UNHCR Evaluation and Policy Analysis Unit, 2008.

Rain, D. Eaters of the Dry Season - Circular Labor Migration in the West African Sahel. Boulder, Colorado: Westview Press, 1999.

Swain, A. "Environmental Migration and Conflict Dynamics: Focus on Developing Regions." Third World Quarterly 17, no. 5 (1996): 959-973.