“Our findings support the assessment that climate change, especially continued warming, will add another 'threat multiplier' that induces people to seek refuge abroad,” the team conclude in their paper.
This research, although jarring in its conclusions, isn’t unique in its endeavor. The link between climate change and human behavior has been looked into before, most notably when it came to the conflict in Syria.
Although a key 2015 study didn’t state that revolution, war, and a mass exodus broke out simply because of a regional, climate change-linked drought, it did suggest that the phenomenon was an exacerbating factor. Another study published last year found a surprisingly linear correlation between rising temperatures and the levels of violent crime and conflict in various parts of the world.
Still, it’s important to point out that human behavior isn’t driven by climate change alone. Yes, climate change makes everything – not just agriculture – worse or more extreme, but economics, socio-political factors, education, and war all play major roles. You cannot simply reduce such a complex issue down to a simple correlation.
Some researchers have been somewhat critical of the study. They have pointed out that the specific link between climate change and refugee numbers is still somewhat tenuous, and because of this, such estimates cannot be accurately made. Others, however, have rushed to its defence, pointing to a robust analysis.
Either way, this study will provoke a much-needed discussion about the potential effect that climate change could have on an already daunting refugee crisis facing the EU, something that few policymakers have previously taken into account. It’s an important if flawed attempt to look into the near future, one that could still be scarred by recent surges in nationalism and isolationism.