Climate disasters and unequal migration aspirations: Evidence from Senegal and The Gambia

About this Session


Thu. 11.04. 10:40



Authors – Irene Pañeda-Fernández, Daniel Meierrieks.

Abstract :

How does climate change shape migration? Climate breakdown is set to make climate disasters more common and it is one of the most pressing challenges of our time. As its impacts are borne disproportionately by low-income countries, understanding the societal impacts of climate change is of paramount importance across the Global South. The literature on the climate-migration nexus has mostly correlated migration flows with climate variables and has yielded mixed findings. Here, we argue previous findings may be inconclusive because sudden- and slow-onset climate disasters may have unequal impacts on migration. We propose a sociological theorization at the individual level that highlights the role of perceptions. On the one hand, the link between climate disasters and migration may be driven by sudden disasters (e.g. floods, heavy storms or landslides) rather than gradual ones (e.g. droughts and increased salinity) because the devastating effect of the former may be easier to perceive as it unfolds quickly and abruptly. On the other hand, the link may be driven by gradual climate disasters because they may be perceived as more irreversible given their slow-unfolding nature. To test whether the type of climate disaster matters and, if so, which one drives migration aspirations, we analyze original representative survey data collected in Senegal and The Gambia and an embedded survey experiment. Results show that recent experience with gradual but not sudden climate disasters correlates with higher migration aspirations. Findings from the survey experiment are aligned with the correlational evidence: only those individuals that have been exposed to gradual-onset weather-related events in the past respond to the prospect of more unfavorable weather conditions in the future with increased migration aspirations. Taken together, our results highlight the role of climate change as an inequality-generating force that may be pushing some people to leave and others to stay put.