Migration for Sustainable Development

Click on a development sector or a Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) and scroll down to explore its migration linkages, relevant Global Compact for Migration (GCM) Objectives, data and measuring tools, case studies and resources. 

Human mobility affects and is affected by all development areas: for example, healthy and educated migrants and displaced persons can more easily participate in and contribute to society and migrants with regular status have improved access to decent and safe work. Migration is a global phenomenon affecting all countries and its effective governance needs global partnerships.

To create the future we want and need, we must empower migrants to fulfil their development potential, which can, in turn, have positive ripple effects for communities locally, regionally and globally. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) represent our global effort to progress towards prosperous and healthy societies. Migrants have a critical role to help fulfil the promises of these Goals; indeed, SDG 10 (Reduced Inequalities) calls for the promotion of safe, orderly and regular migration. The Global Compact for Migration (GCM) sets out a roadmap to help us do exactly this. Read more about M4D and our approach.


Migration is a response to assorted ‘drivers’, whether they be social, political or economic. Climate change interacts with these drivers by acting as an accelerator or a multiplier depending on how sensitive the drivers are to climate change. As a result, the nexus between migration, environment and climate change is highly complex. Migration flows impacted by climate change are commonly referred to under the umbrella term of environmental migration. Environmental migration can be forced or voluntary, temporary or permanent, internal or international, not forgetting the forced immobility of the most vulnerable populations, trapped by the impacts of environmental changes.

Environmental migration includes many forms of migration such as disaster displacement, planned relocation, circular or seasonal migration and labour migration to name but a few. For example, communities can be displaced due to extreme weather events and natural hazards or may evacuate ahead of a disaster. Erratic temperatures induced by climate change can disrupt the livelihoods and traditional routes of pastoralists due to the impacts on winter and summer grazing pastures. Communities impacted by climate change may also resort to temporary and/or seasonal labour migration to diversify livelihood opportunities or, for some Small Island Development States (SIDS), sea level rise may make land uninhabitable and may require planned relocation initiatives.  The adverse impacts of the effects of climate change are disproportionately high in developing and least developed countries as well as among the poor and marginalized social groups.

But the linkages between the environment, climate change sector and migration don’t stop there, they are context-specific but also often cross-cutting with other sector areas such as:

  • Employment: The development of initiatives to decouple economic growth from fossil fuels and resource-extractive industries, and the shift to circular and green economies, is a growing global priority. As sectors and enterprises are greened, many low- and high-skilled migrants that are employed in resource dependent sectors (industry, agriculture, construction, waste management) will require up-/re-skilling and social protection. (In line with SDGs 1, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9, 10)
  • Governance: The impacts of climate change can lead to a loss of biodiversity, disrupt ecosystem services, and reduce natural resources which, in turn, can increase demand for natural resources and exacerbate communal tensions. This can impact the drivers and experiences of migration. Well-managed ecosystem services include both host communities and migrants (including pastoralists) in decision making processes plus an awareness of pre-existing tensions relating to natural resource management, as well as considering the impacts of conservation projects on local and mobile populations so as not to intensify tensions or create new challenges. (In line with SDGs 6, 13, 14, 15, 16)
  • Rural development: The effects of climate change are often felt most severely in rural areas. Natural resource-dependent livelihoods, such as farming, fishing and forestry are severely impacted by challenges from changing ecosystems. This often leads to internal and international, circular and urban migration. Key drivers of migration from rural to urban areas include poverty, vulnerability, food insecurity, lack of employment and more. Many of these drivers are exacerbated by climate change which can for example accelerate and multiply the depletion and degradation of natural resources, decline in crop yields and loss of agrobiodiversity. (In line with SDGs 1,2, 14, 15)
  • Urban development: Climate migration occurs against a demographic backdrop of growing populations and rapid urbanization in many countries, where migration and urbanization are quickly increasing even before taking into account climate change. Migrants should be included in all targets relating to urban disaster risk reduction and management, as they are often more vulnerable to disasters in urban areas. The inclusion of migrants and displaced populations in urban initiatives to address air, land and water pollution is also critical as migrant and marginalised groups are often amongst the most vulnerable.  (In line with SDGs 3, 11 and 13)
  • Private sector development/trade: The private sector, including industry and employer associations, are often key partners in responding to climate change and its relationship to migration. The private sector can support reskilling of migrant workers and facilitate low- and high-skilled migration in the transition to a green economy, hire circular/seasonal migrants from climate affected areas and adapt products to support migration and climate change adaptation, resilience and recovery from disaster development, among its many other roles. (In line with SDGs 7, 8, 9, 12)
GCM Objectives

Environment and climate changes’ important role in migration governance is recognized primarily in Objective 2: Minimize Adverse Drivers, as well as Objective 5: Regular Pathways. For a full list of Objectives relevant to the environment and climate change, please see the icons to the right, and learn more from the UN Network on Migration's GCM Booklet and Migration Network Hub.

gcm 2

Minimizing adverse drivers of migration such as natural disasters and environmental degradation requires developing adaptation and resilience strategies, coherent regional mechanisms and mainstreaming displacement considerations into disaster preparedness and response.

GCM 19

Migrant and diaspora skills can contribute to making their home countries’ economies more sustainable, often sustaining livelihoods and communities that are negatively impacted by climate change.

gcm 5

Joint cooperation can strengthen solutions for people compelled to leave due to climate change, including planned relocation and visa options.

GCM 20

Social and financial remittances can be channelled into resilience-building activities in communities fragile to climate change impacts. Remittances can fund greener economies and provide life-saving resources for vulnerable families and communities.

GCM 16

Migrants and displaced people must be included in urban planning and initiatives on disaster risk reduction, reducing pollution and all other climate-related planning.

GCM 23

Increased international and regional cooperation is needed to address the environmental drivers of migration, as climate challenges are not restricted to any one territory.

GCM 18

Migrant labourers need to be reskilled and upskilled as sectors and enterprises are greened and resource dependent sectors adapt to climate change.

Data & Measuring Results

For the latest data on migration, climate change, and the environment, check out:


Developed under the Mainstreaming Migration into International Cooperation and Development (MMICD) initiative, the Toolkit on Integrating Migration into Environment and Climate Change Sector Interventions helps integrate migration into any stage of the Intervention Cycle. The toolkit includes practical tools for practitioners including for measuring results, such as a Theory of Change and Indicator Bank.

Case Studies


How does migration and climate change truly impact people’s lives? Climate change is occurring at rates much faster than anticipated and its effects are clearly felt worldwide. Nowhere is this more evident than in Small Island Development States of the Pacific. Carlon is a student in the Republic of the Mashall Islands who knows that climate change is threatening the future of his country. More frequent and stronger high tides, and prolonged droughts, are already changing the social fabric in which he is growing up. Carlon joins those raising their voices to advocate for climate action to prevent forced migration.

The video is a part of a #MigrationConnection series that have been produced by IOM through the “Mainstreaming Migration into International Cooperation and Development” (MMICD) initiative funded by the EU.


Responding to the increasing impact of climate change on migration, some projects have worked to mainstream migration management into climate risk management strategies. The Pacific Climate Change and Migration (PCCM) Project supported the capacity development of Pacific Island countries so that they are better equipped to address the impacts of climate change on migration. Read more about this project and the good practices we learned from its implementation.


Key resources on migration and environment and climate change:

  • Integrating Migration into Environment and Climate Change Interventions Toolkit (IOM): This toolkit was developed under the EU-funded Mainstreaming Migration into International Cooperation and Development (MMICD) Initiative to provide operational and user-friendly tools to help international cooperation and development actors to integrate migration into environment and climate change interventions.
  • Environmental Migration Portal (IOM): This Environmental Migration Portal is the knowledge platform on people on the move in a changing climate. It aims to provide up-to-date information on key processes and developments, capacity building efforts, research and publications, and operational projects addressing the migration, environment and climate change (MECC) nexus.
  • A Toolbox: Planning Relocations to Protect People from Disasters and Environmental Change (Georgetown University/UNHCR/IOM): This toolbox seeks to provide concrete suggestions for States and other actors who are contemplating or planning to relocate people in order to protect them from disasters and environmental change.
  • Human Mobility and Adaptation to Environmental Change (IOM): This report provides an up-to-date overview of environmental change and human mobility. It provides examples of environmental migration from research around the world, summarizes developments in international policy and draws out implications for research, policy and practice.
  • People on the Move in a Changing Climate – Linking Policy, Evidence and Action (IOM): The report provides communities, partners, governments and other UN agencies with guidelines to scale up the implementation of adaptative action. Specifically, it draws on existing knowledge and IOM’s experience of working with governments, other UN agencies and partners at different levels to outline the main aspects of the human mobility and climate change nexus from a policy perspective and put forward a series of recommended actions for policymakers.