Featured Image Caption: As a host community, Salt Lake City embraces new immigrants, and community members find alignment and opportunities in local food production.

By: Judy Dorsey

Climate migration solutions are found at the intersections of environmental migration, climate change, and humanitarian response activities

Climate migration solutions are found at the intersections of environmental migration, climate change, and humanitarian response

Climate migration is an emerging field at the intersection of three professional disciplines: 1) climate action, where I’ve spent most of my time over the last 25 years; 2) environmental migration, a sub-field of migration studies; and 3) humanitarian aid and peacekeeping. Because the most climate-vulnerable regions tend also to be areas of extreme poverty prone to conflict, global climate migration is being voiced, by many, as the most serious outcome of climate change. Therefore its very important to simultaneously address existing climate-related priorities, like mitigation and adaptation, while forging a new path forward for climate migration solutions.

Climate Migration Overview

  • What is the scale of the issue? While forecasts vary, researchers are starting to coalesce around a mid-point estimate that climate change will cause approximately 200 million people to migrate by mid-century (Behrman, 2018) – roughly twice the rate of current migration.
  • Where are people leaving? The hardest hit regions will be Sub-Saharan Africa (86 million), Southeast Asia (40 million) and Latin America (17 million). And while the population numbers aren’t as high in island nations, they will also face the prospect of statelessness as sea levels rise. (Wallace-Wells, 2019)
  • How is this different from internal displacement? In the U.S., sea level rise, wildfires, and flooding cause temporary and sometimes permanent relocation (both voluntary and involuntary). Assisting people in staying in place or in planned relocation is a growing part of domestic climate resilience practice. However, the term climate migration generally refers to migrating across country borders rather than internal displacement within a country.
  • Why should U.S. cities care about global climate migration? Because cities are on the front lines of climate change, many U.S. cities are joining forces to collectively influence and support international efforts in climate action. Paying attention to global climate migration is a natural extension of this history of action. U.S. cities also have traditionally tended to be leaders in advocating for immigrants and ensuring a welcoming and safe community for people seeking refuge. Finally, U.S. cities are innovators in climate mitigation and resilience. Addressing climate migration from a position of opportunity and inclusivity can be synergistic and supportive of other economic growth and sustainability goals.

Fort Collins council calls on Trump, Congress to take action on immigration. Fort Collins City Council adopted a resolution in early October that calls for federal action on immigration and addresses concerns voiced by immigrants locally. Read the full Coloradoan article to learn more.

International Response

In recognition of increased migration due to climate change, international policies and legal frameworks are starting to take shape across all three fields described in the Venn diagram above:

  • Environmental Migration
  • Climate Change
    • 2015 Conference of the Parties (COP) 21 in Paris: United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) adds a new task force on climate migration.
  • Humanitarian Response

Climate migration was an important part of UN Climate Week that was held in New York earlier this fall on the heels of the most recent International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report. The IPCC report confirms that climate change threatens the human rights of life, food, health, housing, livelihood, and water. As a result, five UN human rights committees issued a joint statement calling on member countries to address climate migration, including protection mechanisms for those displaced across international borders by climate change.

U.S. Response

Current silos in U.S. response to climate migration

Current silos in U.S. response to climate migration

In the U.S., we haven’t yet addressed climate migration head on. It’s time to expand the conversation beyond our own emissions boundaries to include other countries and communities hardest hit by climate change. But we’re also not starting from scratch; climate migration is being addressed, indirectly, in the U.S. in at least four areas:

  • Refugee resettlement
  • National security and peace building
  • Internal displacement from sea level rise, wildfire, flooding, and high heat
  • Climate resilience planning and practice

By integrating and expanding the four topic areas above, U.S. cities can become international leaders. The following list provides a few examples and resources across these four topic areas that we can build upon in addressing climate migration:

  • Federal Policy & Guidance
    • 2016 Obama Presidential Memorandum “Climate Change and National Security” formally observed the relationship between climate change and migration.
  • National Professional Groups and Associations
    • American Society of Adaptation Professionals (ASAP) has a member-led working group focused on climate migration and managed retreat at all scales.
    • Climigration Network (org) is a member-led working group focused on understanding the challenges and intricacies of climate relocation.
  • U.S. Based Transnational Organizations and Resources

Brendle Group’s Role

Why is a Colorado-based sustainability consulting firm concerned about a global trend like climate migration? As noted at the beginning of this newsletter, we feel an obligation to help our customers navigate emerging trends and hidden threats to sustainability. This is also part of our company’s purpose – to create lasting impacts that inspire and sustain our communities and our world. Our purpose touches on not only the communities we serve but also all communities across the world impacted by our actions. It’s also in our mission to identify, lead, and catalyze innovative solutions to sustainability’s most vexing challenges. To be successful, we need to partner with the organizations listed above, and with others, to encourage U.S. cities and businesses to embrace a global mindset and consider climate migration from the perspective of new opportunities that advance existing goals in sustainability.

How will we put these ideals into action? We see this as a natural extension of our longstanding climate resilience practice. Our team would love to work with you to integrate climate migration into your resilience projects. Here are a few things we can help you with.

  • Education
    • Provide training and primers on climate migration to inform customers on issues and opportunities.
    • Bring international perspectives and thought leaders on the various sub-topics of climate migration to our local clients.
  • Engagement
    • Integrate strategies for engaging immigrants and refugees in our community planning efforts.
  • Accounting Protocols
    • Evolve greenhouse gas accounting and climate vulnerability assessment boundaries and protocols to consider the climate change burden-to-contribution ratio in a more equitable way.
  • Sustainable Human Resettlement
    • Foster bilateral design approaches between host communities and regions hardest hit by climate change.
    • Incorporate sustainable design principles and climate resilience into communities and homes for resettled climate migrants.
    • Help increase local understanding and policies that create win-win scenarios for both climate migrants and their host communities.
  • Growth and Economic Development
    • Explore climate migration as a tool for community revitalization and growth.

In addition to our consulting services, we also have a general ethos of walking the talk at Brendle Group. With the help of our internal Community and Organizational Sustainability team (CaOS), we want to get to know the refugees and immigrants living in our community. We’re also exploring piloting Peace RECs for our carbon neutral operations and sharing our learnings with U.S. cities and businesses that might be interested in following suit. Finally, while we’re mostly a domestic firm, we’re excited to expand to a global mindset and seek international partners to address climate migration.  As most of our readers know, we’re known for our collaborative approach and our ability to build interdisciplinary teams to tackle tough problems. While it’s a daunting challenge, we’re committed to addressing climate migration and to extending our network into new collaborations – to bring about meaningful change.

Works Cited

Behrman, A. K. (2018). Facilitating the Resettlement and Rights of Climate Refugees. New York: Routledge.

Wallace-Wells, D. (2019). The Uninhabitable Earth: Life After Warming. New York: Tim Duggan Books, Penguin Random House.


About the Author – Judy is a valued collaborator offering 23 years of executive leadership in sustainability, innovation, and entrepreneurship. Her specialties include district-scale and community-scale planning in climate neutrality, clean energy, organizational development, and net zero energy and water initiatives. She has led the completion of more than 300 sustainability projects for over 150 clients across 30 states.

Over the past 20 years, Judy grew Brendle Group’s 5 practice areas and 4 sectors into an award-winning consulting group. She serves on the advisory board for Colorado State University’s Energy Institute and is co-chair of Colorado C3E, an initiative to advance women in clean energy. She is co-founder of the Colorado Clean Energy Cluster and helped spearhead two of its primary initiatives, the International Cleantech Network and FortZED.

Judy is the recipient of numerous awards, including the 2011 U.S. Senate Certificate of Special Recognition as a Leader in Engineering Sustainable Change, the 2012 MIT Clean Energy Education and Empowerment Award for entrepreneurship and innovation, the 2016 National Ski Areas Association Industry Impact Award, and is currently featured at the Smithsonian Institution’s Places of Invention exhibit.