Navigating Complexity: Climate, Migration, and Conflict in a Changing World

Record levels of displacement and accelerating climate change have prompted many to wonder if the world is headed toward a more violent future. Whether a policymaker, practitioner, diplomat, or peacebuilder, the nexus of climate change, migration, and conflict is posing fundamental challenges in a myriad of ways. This document is a response to requests from development and diplomacy professionals for insights that will help them understand and respond to these challenges in the field.

Climate change is expected to contribute to the movements of people through a variety of means. At the same time, there is significant concern climate change may influence the form, type, and location of violent conflict. Our understanding of these dynamics is evolving quickly and sometimes producing surprising results. There are, in fact, considerable misconceptions about why people move, how many move, and what effects they have. Although not exhaustive, we give some sense of the major lines of thinking here. We seek to help answer the following questions: What do we know (and not know) about the links between climate change, migration, and violent conflict? And what can be done to maximize the potential for constructive outcomes?

Experts generally agree that the risk of violent conflict or instability related to climate changeinduced migration is highly dependent on local context. Climatic factors are very difficult to separate from other critical factors in decisions to move or engage in armed conflict. These economic, political, and social factors will always be key parts of any analysis of climate change, migration, and conflict. Nevertheless, climate change and large movements of people clearly present major societal and governance challenges. Governments, international organizations, and civil society are being asked to respond, whether they are prepared or not.

Produced By
Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars
Schuyler Null, Lauren Herzer Risi
44 pages
Population Focus
Related Countries