Population and Environment

, Volume 32, Issue 2–3, pp 238–262 | Cite as

Migration and climate change: examining thresholds of change to guide effective adaptation decision-making

  • Douglas K. BardsleyEmail author
  • Graeme J. Hugo
Original Paper


The implications of environmental change for migration are little understood. Migration as a response to climate change could be seen as a failure of in situ adaptation methods, or migration could be alternatively perceived as a rational component of creative adaptation to environmental risk. This paper frames migration as part of an adaptation response to climate change impacts to natural resource condition and environmental hazards. Thresholds will be reached by communities after which migration will become a vital component of an effective adaptation response. Such changes to migration patterns have the potential to undermine migration policy unless appropriate preparations are undertaken. This paper describes an approach to assist researchers to frame how climate change will influence migration by critically analysing how thresholds of fundamental change to migration patterns could be identified, primarily in relation to two case studies in Nepal and Thailand. Future policy for internal and international migration could be guided by the analysis of such thresholds of non-linear migration and resourced effectively to ensure that socio-economic and humanitarian outcomes are maximised.


Migration Climate change Adaptation Thresholds Environmental risk Nepal Thailand 



The authors wish to acknowledge the support of the Asian Development Bank’s Climate Change Program. This article draws in part from the report, “Hugo G., Bardsley D. K., Tan Y., Sharma V., Williams M. and Bedford R. (2009). Climate change and migration in the Asia-Pacific region. Unpublished Report to the Asian Development Bank, Asian Development Bank, Manila.”


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Social SciencesThe University of AdelaideAdelaideAustralia

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