Center for American Progress

RELEASE: Climate Change Influences Migration Patterns, New CAP Column Finds
Press Release

Washington, D.C. — Climate change is emerging as both an indirect and direct driver of migration that complicates existing vulnerabilities, according to a new column published today by the Center for American Progress. Persistent drought, fluctuating temperatures, and unpredictable rainfall have reduced crop yields throughout the Northern Triangle, which compound with violence, poverty, and corruption as reasons why people move.

Some reported effects of climate change in the Northern Triangle that are interacting with other vulnerabilities to drive migration are:

  • Fluctuating temperatures and unpredictable rainfall, which have destroyed crops and livelihoods
  • Increasing food insecurity
  • Rising instances of coffee rust, a fungus that has wiped out coffee crops throughout the area

“Vulnerable communities are more likely to be affected by climate change. For example, indigenous communities in Central America are disproportionally affected because of the traditional agricultural activities they perform,” said Jayla Lundstrom, an intern with the Immigration Policy team at CAP and author of the column.

At the same time, there is no international legal framework for environment and climate-induced migration. Terminology also becomes challenging when discussing this irregular migration—not only because there is no international consensus but also because migration is multicausal, which makes crafting a definition difficult. “This is an example of how poorly prepared we are to face environment and climate-induced migration in a fair and effective manner,” Lundstrom said.

The column identifies two different types of climate-related migration:

  1. Migration driven by sudden-onset disasters, such as typhoons, hurricanes, and landslides, which often is an immediate survival response. As such, in most cases, those fleeing remain within the borders of a nation, so they are not refugees.
  2. Migration driven by slow-onset disasters and environmental degradation, including droughts, desertification, sea level rise, and rain pattern shifts. Climate change is increasing the impact and consequences of these events, which can have a long-term impact.

The Trump administration has denied the existence of climate change and taken a hard-line approach to immigration, which works against efforts to manage migration from the region. Recently, legislation has been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate, which would create a humanitarian program providing protections to migrants fleeing environmental and climate disasters.

For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Claudia Montecinos at or 202-481-8145.