Trapped by climate change

Trapped by climate change

By Elisa Jiménez Alonso

On Monday, we wrote about the challenges surrounding climate change-induced human migration. This strategy, normally seen as a last resort, might soon become the only adaptation option for many people around the world. But what happens when migration is not possible or when it increases the vulnerability of humans?

The IPCC’s 5th assessment report recognised that “vulnerability is inversely correlated with mobility”, which essentially means that the people most exposed and vulnerable to climate change impacts are also likely to be those with the least capability to move. If migration is used as an emergency response, though, it is likely to create debt and increase vulnerability, trapping people not in an environmentally dangerous situation but a (socio)economic one.

Image: Relationship between vulnerability to environmental change and mobility showing that populations most exposed and vulnerable to the impacts of climate change may have least ability to migrate (IPCC, 2014, Human security. In: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change)

Usually, moving would require money but as climate change impacts increase, they threaten the livelihoods of millions and leave them with little or no income. For example, farmers who have been affected by floods or droughts also lose yields and thus their only source of income. So, not only might an area no longer be safe for the people who live in it, but those people are also left without options to sustain themselves as their economic situation becomes increasingly dire.

If and when they do decide to move because there are no other options left, it is likely for them to become trapped in a spiral of poverty. As rural populations in developing countries move towards cities because their land has become non-arable due to salt water intrusion, desertification and drought, or frequent flooding, informal settlements in and around cities grow. These settlements are highly vulnerable since they are usually highly exposed to flooding and landslides. People living there face great climate risks due to a number of factors: their socioeconomic status, their exposure, or the inability of many to prepare for potential impacts.

Climate change is trapping people in dangerous situations by leaving them without options, be it options to move, to generate income, or both. This will pose special challenges for decision and policy-makers as making adaptation options available to the most vulnerable will be key to increasing their climate resilience.


Cover photo by Geralt (public domain)

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