Governments and communities in developing countries around the world have already begun taking action to manage climate change impacts through adaptation. Our recent research in Vietnam flags a warning about how this is being done. We show that a further group of people are being forced to migrate from the Mekong due to decisions originally taken to protect them from the climate. Thousands of kilometres of dykes, many over four metres high, now criss-cross the delta. They were built principally to protect people and crops from flooding, but those same dykes have fundamentally altered the ecosystem. The poor and the landless can no longer find fish to eat and sell, and the dykes prevent free nutrients being carried onto paddies by the flood.
All this demonstrates that climate change threatens to exacerbate the existing trends of economic migration. One large scale study of migration in deltas has found that climate factors such as extreme floods, cyclones, erosion and land degradation play a role in making natural resource-based livelihoods more tenuous, further encouraging inhabitants to migrate.
To date, traditional approaches to achieving economic growth have not served the most vulnerable in the same way they have served those living in relative wealth. This was demonstrated most dramatically by the revelation that the number of undernourished people on earth rose by 38m last year – a shift for which climate change is partly responsible. This took place despite global GDP growth of 2.4%.
It is with these failures in mind that society must prepare an equitable and sustainable response to climate change and what seems a looming migrant crisis.