Volume 41 - Article 18 | Pages 491–544

Migration influenced by environmental change in Africa: A systematic review of empirical evidence

By Marion Borderon, Patrick Sakdapolrak, Raya Muttarak, Endale Kebede, Raffaella Pagogna, Eva Sporer

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Date received:26 Jul 2018
Date published:15 Aug 2019
Word count:9200
Keywords:Africa, climate change, drivers of migration, environmental change, migration, systematic review


Background: Despite an increase in scholarly and policy interest regarding the impacts of environmental change on migration, empirical knowledge in the field remains varied, patchy, and limited. Generalised discourse on environmental migration frequently oversimplifies the complex channels through which environmental change influences the migration process

Objective: This paper aims to systematise the existing empirical evidence on migration influenced by environmental change with a focus on Africa, the continent most vulnerable to climate change.

Methods: We select 53 qualitative and quantitative studies on the influence of environmental change on migration from the comprehensive Climig database and systematically analyse the literature considering the multidimensional drivers of migration.

Results: Environmental change influences migration in Africa in an indirect way by affecting other drivers of migration, including sociodemographic, economic, and political factors. How and in what direction environmental change influences migration depends on socioeconomic and geographical contexts, demographic characteristics, and the type and duration of migration.

Conclusions: The contextually contingent nature of migration–environment relationships prevents us from drawing a universal conclusion, whether environmental change will increase or suppress migration in Africa. However, this study unravels the complex interactions between the nature and duration of the environmental pressure, the livelihood of the populations, the role of kinship ties and the role of demographic differentials on migration response.

Contribution: The review provides an initial systematic and comprehensive summary of empirical evidence on the environmental drivers of migration in Africa. It also discusses the implications of the scale, materials, and methods used in the 53 studies.

Author's Affiliation

Marion Borderon - Universität Wien, Austria [Email]
Patrick Sakdapolrak - Universität Wien, Austria [Email]
Raya Muttarak - International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA), Austria [Email]
Endale Kebede - Wirtschaftsuniversität Wien, Austria [Email]
Raffaella Pagogna - Universität Wien, Austria [Email]
Eva Sporer - Universität Wien, Austria [Email]

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