Adaptation to better manage the impacts of climate-related migration is crucial to protect economies – and millions of lives

Severe heatwaves, deadly wildfires, violent storms, and devastating floods swept across many areas of the world in the summer of 2023, the hottest recorded since 1880. These extreme weather events, caused by climate change, threaten food security, communities, infrastructure, natural resources, and entire ecosystems. They have led to the displacement of millions of people worldwide.

A new study by the European Policy Centre in collaboration with the European Investment Bank  recommends several priority actions, including facilitating migration as a measure of climate adaptation. Here are the details.

Internal displacement

Global surface temperature increased by 1.1° Celsius over the last decade, leading to biodiversity loss, desertification, lower rainfall, rising sea levels, ocean acidification, and forest and land degradation.

In 2022, 32.6 million people worldwide were displaced due to climate-related weather events. Among the countries with the most internally displaced people were Nigeria, Pakistan, the Philippines, China, India, and Bangladesh. In Bangladesh, 13.3 million people, 8% of the population, could be forced to move by 2050, because two-thirds of the country’s surface is less than five metres above sea level, making it particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and flooding, according to the World Bank. The Philippines and the South Pacific islands face a similar predicament.

Food, water and resource shortages caused by climate change also fuel conflicts, which increase displacement.

The weakest countries bear the burden

Though the number of migrants seeking asylum in Europe has significantly increased , Europe is far from the largest host of refugees. Three-quarters of all migrants move within their own countries or regions. International migrants represent only 3.5% of the global population.

However, the vast majority of people in areas exposed to extreme climate-related weather events do not relocate at all, because they are unable or unwilling to leave their homes, according to Caroline Zickgraf, deputy director of the Hugo Observatory at the University of Liège.

Countries that are severely affected by climate change – notably because of their geographical location and dependence on agriculture – such as Bangladesh, Somalia, Ethiopia, or Sudan, are often also prone to political unrest or conflict.

These countries also take in the most refugees. Three-quarters of the world’s refugees are hosted by low- and middle-income countries, with least-developed countries providing asylum to 20% of them.

Helping cities prepare for climate refugees

Through its Climate Adaptation Plan, the European Investment Bank supports displacement hotspots in the EU’s Southern Neighbourhood, Central America, Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia. For example, the Bank is working with local banks in Malawi and Zambia to finance smallholder farmers who adopt climate-resilient practices.

For least-developed countries and small island developing states, the Bank is ready to extend financing of up to 100% of the cost of climate adaptation projects.

However, most people who migrate within their countries relocate to cities. Around 20% of migrants live in the world’s top 20 largest cities. Rural-to-urban mobility caused by climate change is likely to continue growing in sub-Saharan Africa and in South and Southeast Asia, presenting a challenge for urban infrastructure.

Investment that takes migrants into account is essential to making cities inclusive, safe, resilient, and sustainable.

Building on experience from the Economic Resilience Initiative and its approach to fragility and conflict sensitivity, the European Investment Bank continues to invest in improving the climate resilience of urban infrastructure and services, such as housing, sanitation and water, energy and transport, in cities and communities hosting displaced people, migrants or refugees.

For example, the Bank, together with the European Commission, supports the Aqaba-Amman water desalination and conveyance project, which will increase access to water across Jordan, a country facing severe water scarcity and with the world’s second-highest number of refugees per capita.

Support for micro, small and medium-sized enterprises focusing on financial inclusion and job creation is also key to integrating migrants in the economy. The European Investment Bank provides credit lines to Jordanian banks and microfinance institutions under the Global Concessional Finance Facility, so they can lend to small firms that promote the financial inclusion of refugees.

A global effort

Around 3.5 billion people are estimated to be living in areas highly vulnerable to climate change, notably in Africa and Asia, and up to 1 billion environmental migrants are expected to do so by 2050.

The UN Environment Programme estimates that climate adaptation will cost developing countries $140 billion to $300 billion per year by 2030, and $280 billion to $500 billion annually by 2050. Helping the countries most affected by climate migration overcome this challenge requires global collaboration and comprehensive strategies to support investment in climate-resilient projects and industries.

The European Investment Bank is part of several such initiatives, such as the multilateral development banks’ platform on economic migration and forced displacement, which offers opportunities for policy exchange and operational coordination.