Spring Seminar of the University of Geneva: Environmental Change and its Effect on Migration

NEWS RELEASES – On the 24th April 2017, the University of Geneva held a Seminar on Environmental Change and its Effect on Migration. Fabien Cottier, the speaker, has written an article on climate stress and rural-urban migration. This conference was a presentation of his observation followed by a debate. The main point was to assess if there is a migration from urban to rural areas caused by weather shocks.


Fabien Cottier explained that writing this article has been motivated by the broadly alarming discourse on climate change and migration all over the world: but beyond these discourses there is in the literature much more limited results. There is some effect of climate change on migration discussed by researchers but observations are far less alarmist than the common discourse.

It is really complicated to observe a pattern of migration and climate change as the reasons of migration can be multiple: migrations are a nonlinear phenomenon. There is multiple reasons to migrate and on the case of climate change, the early literature has spoken about people fleeing to preserve their individuality but nowadays more factors of this movement are taken into account. There are major disagreement in the state of the art about the impact of rainfall deficit, floods and temperature variation. Some argue that migrations happen even before these weather shocks can occur. Population of some area are aware that climate change is coming so they decide to migrate before any impact on there lives. The biggest disagreement is on the factors leading to migration. And each migration is different: it can be local or distant migration what make the phenomena difficult to study. Fabien Cottier has decided to focus his research on the rural-urban migration: people migrating from rural areas to cities. The paper he has written tries to analyze the impact of weather shocks (and not climate change as it is hard to quantify nowadays) on this specific type of migrations. He asked a main question: does the environmental change affect rural-urban migration? How can economic and political factors influence migrations?  To guide his work, the researcher take from starting point the hypothesis that the precipitation deficit and excess temperature will likely increase migration. By analyzing what push people to migrate Fabien Cottier has been able to verify his hypothesis but this field needs more analysis to confirm the link between weather shocks and migrations.

Fabien Cottier found out that weather shocks can have an impact on the access to food and water. The result is migration but it has a cost. The population migrating have to take into account a calculation of what migrating will cost them and what they will gain from this migrating compared to their situation if they stay. The researcher observed some irregularities on the link between migration and whether shocks. Some people are less incline to migrate because they are less impacted than other in the same region. He observes that some groups and individual suffer less from whether shocks in areas where the state is involved. He concluded that when states are more investing, people are less impacted by migration. But in some places even if the state is not present impact of whether shocks can be reduced by the affiliations to a group. The group can replace the role of the state investment. Only people excluded from the group will be more inclined to migrate. The economic situation needs to be taken into account as the implication of the state and the affiliations to a group. Even if the richest can migrate more easily they don’t really need to, because they have the means to reduce with their preexisting resources the impact of hard whether change.

To conclude, Fabien Cottier underlined a link between weather shocks and migration but this link is not automatic. Migration are a nonlinear phenomenon because lots of factors are taken into account by the population migrating. Furthermore, we can observe immediate migration due to whether shocks but it is complicated to observe this impact on a long term.


EF - Research Assistant at the CIPADH