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Duke in D.C. Conference Explores Migration, Climate Change and Policy

The Conference on Climate Change and Migration featured Çağlar Özden, co-director of the World Development Report 2023

The effect of climate change on existing forces driving migration amounts to “the development challenge of the world,” Çağlar Özden said at a recent Duke event.

Climate change is compounding other drivers of migration, such as poverty, conflict and demographic changes, according to Özden, a lead economist in the Development Research Group of the World Bank.

“You cannot fix one of them at a time,” he said.

Özden was addressing an audience comprising academia, government, international organizations, think tanks and the private sector at the Duke in D.C. office on April 21. The Conference on Climate Change and Migration was a one-day event exploring the future of migration in the context of climate change and its impact on policy needs.

Hosted by Duke’s Program on Climate-Related Migration (PCRM), the event brought together expertise from a variety of areas — natural sciences, social sciences, public sector, private sector, government and non-government actors — for a conversation on climate change and migration, explained Kerilyn Schewel, co-director of PCRM and lecturing fellow for the Duke Center for International Development.

Rapidly changing demographics

“Migration is about both demography and geography,” said Özden, who is co-director of the World Development Report 2023: Migrants, Refugees and Societies, which launched on April 25.

Çağlar Özden speaking behind a lectern
Çağlar Özdena, a lead economist at the World Bank, speaks on global mobility at the Conference on Climate Change and Migration.

There are about 184 million migrants in the world, with almost half of them living in low- and middle-income countries. Sixty-two million migrants are predicted in the next century.

The populations of high-income and many middle-income countries are quickly aging, Özden added.

Of the people who are going to be alive in 2050, 75% are already born. The number of children in middle-income countries has reached its peak, with a decline in fertility levels to replacement levels expected in these countries. High- and middle-income countries will need more workers to sustain their current social contracts.

“This is the only time in human history where the populations of the countries are declining voluntarily,” Özden said. “People are deciding not to have children. Demographic trends are rapidly changing and will change.”

A world of unknowns

When it comes to climate change, Özden said, “the science is absolutely clear. My generation destroyed the world.” However, what is not clear is how it links to mobility.

“We are in the…world of big unknowns when it comes to the relationship between climate change and mobility.”

Özden said better data, particularly at the regional and local levels, is needed to further understand the issues driving mobility and create a holistic approach across these dimensions.

He also called for strategic policy coordination between origin and destination countries instead of leaving destination countries to drive migration policy.

“Mobility, especially when it’s well designed, well planned and legal, is a good thing,” Özden said. “It’s an adaptation mechanism to all the crises that my generation created in this world.”

Continuing the conversation

Kerilyn Schewel standing
Kerilyn Schewel, co-director of the Program on Climate-Related Migration

The conference featured panel discussions covering several topics, including insights from big data into migration and climate change impacts; trends, opportunities and challenges of climate change and internal migration; needs, funding, measurement and strategies for climate adaptation; and immigration law, human rights and involuntary immobility.

About the Program on Climate-Related Migration

The PCRM’s work centers on conducting rigorous research into both local and global migratory trends arising from climate change. Launched in fall 2022, it is coordinated through the Duke Center for International Development (DCID) with support from Duke’s Office of Global Affairs.

“The issue of climate-related migration requires a transdisciplinary approach,” said Sarah Bermeo, co-director of PCRM, associate professor of public policy and political science in the Sanford School of Public Policy and director of graduate studies for the Master of International Development Policy program. “We launched the Duke Program on Climate-Related Migration to create a space to bring together all of these different viewpoints and advance our knowledge and our policy solutions in the areas related to climate change and its intersection with human mobility.”