Center for Progressive Reform

Uprooting Communities

Climate Displacement, Migration, and Relocation

Even as some politicians downplay the threat from climate change, a number of communities in the United States and across the globe have been forced to relocate to avoid being swallowed up by rising seas. The growing phenomenon of climate change-induced human displacement, migration, and relocation requires both a domestic and international policy response. Increasingly frequent and stronger storms, flooding, and wildfires, all linked to global climate change, displace hundreds of thousands of people a year.

Slower moving climate impacts, such as record droughts and the gradual migration of agricultural pests to new regions, result in crop failures that drive seasonal and permanent migration of people and communities. Already, rising sea levels, melting permafrost, and eroding coastlines in the U.S Gulf Coast, Arctic, Pacific, and Central America are forcing entire communities to permanently relocate.

Climate Relocation

Left with no alternative, a number of communities have been forced to move, necessitating a process of planning for and implementing a permanent relocation of an entire community to a settlement less vulnerable to climate change. The growing phenomenon of climate relocation is global in scope, affecting not just Pacific island nations such as Kiribati, but also dozens of U.S. communities, most of them small, remote and indigenous villages.

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Climate Migration

In addition to climate-induced relocation of entire communities, two other emerging phenomena related to climate change are climate migration and climate displacement. Increasingly, climate change impacts act as a driver of human migration, among more traditional causes such as economic opportunity or political conflict. Climate-induced migration may be permanent or seasonal, in response to, for example, changing agricultural conditions and opportunities. Climate migration is also transnational or internal, inducing individuals and households to seek opportunities in foreign countries or urban centers. In this way, climate migration can both impact historical trends by changing the timing of migration, as well as create new routes and trends.

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Climate Displacement

Global climate change is implicated in increasingly frequent and intense natural disasters, such as hurricanes, droughts, and wildfires. For residents of affected areas, the ensuing evacuations sometimes end up being permanent, as was the case for many Gulf Coast residents after Hurricane Katrina.

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