Migration is also a climate solution

Matt Palmer on Unsplash

If you are serious about tackling climate change, you must also defend our right to migrate.

The World Health Organization warned last month of “the new reality” of killer heatwaves and other extreme weather, a fact that tens of millions of Americans are all too aware of. The historic heatwaves gripping Arizona and other parts of the country come as we’re entering peak hurricane season. 

The majority of Americans are very concerned about the effects of climate change. We worry about these things because we want our families to feel safe and secure in a heating world. We are slowly coming to understand that increasingly extreme weather may mean we need to make a move across town, across the country or, in some cases, seek a livable future in another nation.

But there is another story, just out of view. We also learned recently that the Texas governor ordered troopers patrolling the border area to “push” back migrants, including pregnant women and children, at risk of drowning in the Rio Grande River and not to give water to people seeking asylum, even in the extreme heat.

If we truly want to live in a just and sustainable world, we must defend the right to seek asylum and advocate for safe migration pathways for people as we rapidly decarbonize our economy and lives. 


We can’t predict when and where our lives will be disrupted by climate change – it can be halfway around the world one day and in your backyard the next. In fact, a Forbes Home survey found that a third of Americans surveyed cited climate change as a reason to move in 2022 and according to a recent Gallup poll, one in three Americans personally experienced an extreme weather event in the past two years. We can easily see that migration – moving to safety, to sustainable livelihoods, or to reunite with family – is often the safest and smartest choice in the face of increasing climate chaos.

That’s why as we work to stop carbon pollution, we must also invest in resilience and adaptation that make it possible for people to stay in their homes and communities. But when it is no longer safe for people to remain – whether in rural Oregon, along the Miami coastline, in the Central American Highlands or the Sahel – people should also have the resources and support necessary to relocate and find safety from the climate crisis.

Despite climate change’s increasing role in cross-border migration, it is not yet reflected in our domestic or international migration policies. We need new and expanded pathways to reflect how and why people are migrating, including from climate change, and to preserve long-standing international agreements, like asylum, that protect people fleeing war and persecution, conditions that climate change may exacerbate.  

But we’re moving in the wrong direction. Earlier this year, the Biden administration issued new rules that make it nearly impossible for most people to seek safety in the United States, including from the climate crisis. Despite our nation’s historic responsibility in driving migration — destabilizing economies and democracies across the world and releasing the highest amount of carbon pollution globally — the asylum ban expects other countries to offer protections and ignores that many countries that a person seeking asylum may travel through are not safe places for many migrants, including LGBTQ+ and Black migrants, to live.

Instead of investing in global resilience and expanding safe migration pathways, the US is pushing people back with harsh policies and a hardened border, spending 11 times more on border militarization than on climate finance in recent years.

The Biden administration should recognize the multiple reasons that people seek asylum, including the ways that climate pressures have impacted health and safety in places across the globe, and put more resources into climate adaptation on both sides of the border. Climate justice means doing everything we can to help people stay safely in their homes and communities while opening up space in the most polluting nations – the wealthiest nations, like ours – for the ideas, the lessons in resilience, and the contributions of people from the most altered climates in the world. 

Local efforts, from El Paso to Chicago to Philadelphia, show how communities can welcome and support newcomers, including those displaced by climate change, to rebuild their lives in the United States.

As we build toward a more climate stable future together, we must demand that the Biden administration undo these harmful policies that push people further into danger, and instead expand safe migration pathways and provide support for people being displaced by climate change within the United States. No matter where we’re migrating from, we should all be able to move safely and with dignity to find refuge from the climate crisis.


Isaias Hernandez, aka Queer Brown Vegan, is a U.S.-based freelance environmental justice educator and digital media creator.

Stephanie Teatro is director of climate justice and migration for the National Partnership for New Americans’ growing Climate Justice Collaborative.


Views expressed in this guest post are those of the authors.