Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Other Migration Story in Mexico: Climate Change

The conversation around immigration and Mexico has long been tied to the United States and the prevailing economic conditions in both countries.

But a new report from the Royal United Services Instituteargues that as temperatures rise and precipitation patterns change over the course of the next century, climate too will increasingly become a driver of both internal and international migration in Mexico.

Author Elizabeth Deheza presented the report, Climate Change, Migration, and Security, at the Wilson Center on February 15. She was joined by Michael Werz of the Center for American Progress who discussed the policy implications and application of the findings to other climate sensitive countries.

Decoupling Rainfall and Temperature

“Migration is a defining characteristic of modern Mexico,” Deheza explained, which made it a “perfect laboratory” for the study. Mexico is also expected to experience significant environmental changes over the coming century. Temperature increases of four degrees Celsius by 2100 and changing precipitation patterns are projected to lead to droughts in the north of the country and floods in the south.

Desertification claims 400 square miles of farmland every year and has led an estimated 80,000 farmers to migrate, according to the report. “Food security is threatened by increasing irregularities in the rainy seasons brought about by climate change or climate variability,” said Deheza. The number of food insecure Mexicans reached 20 million in 2010, up from 18 million in 2008.

To determine what effect these changes might be having on the movement of people, Deheza and her co-author Jorge Mora pulled data from Mexico’s 2010 Population and Housing Census and compared it to changes in average temperature and precipitation as well as other environmental factors, like soil conditions.

Among their findings were that an increase in temperature will increase internal migration but decrease international migration, while an increase in precipitation will decrease internal migration and increase international migration. Almost 50 percent of international migrants were between the ages of 20 and 35 and nearly 80 percent were men.

“This [report] is a good example of how you combine qualitative and quantitative research,” said Werz. Previous discussions of climate induced migration have been much more qualitative, he said, relying on anecdotal evidence or conjecture for people’s motivations. Having a “scientific base” can help people take such findings more seriously, he said. More