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Migration activities are an integral part of highly contextualised, multi-dimensional and increasingly multi-local livelihoods, as the 2009 Human Development Report points out. As such, migration is an important feature in the process of rural change, deagrarianisation and urbanisation. Understanding migration is critical to getting us past the rural/urban divide in our thinking on poverty.

Migration is strongly associated with poverty and vulnerability. It can reduce the poverty of those who move, but it can also increase the poverty and inequality of those who stay behind, and can make migrants more vulnerable to losses of well-being at destination areas. Yet a focus on mobility, on who is/is not mobile and the conditions which lead to migration – including but not limited to climate change impacts – requires us to change the way we think about dealing with poverty and climate change in either urban or rural areas.

Migration could be both a manifestly beneficial climate change adaptation and a trajectory of poverty reduction. The Global Migration Handbook is a good place to start in terms of ideas for getting policy engagement with this sort of helpful migration. Yet this view is often overlooked in the way policy debates on migration are framed. Frequently, migration driven by climate change impacts is characterised as a threat to human security. To some degree, this focus is justified. As the Warner et al report shows, climate change and variability will particularly affect migration in and from highly vulnerable areas like low-lying islands and deltas, coastal areas, areas dependent on glacial-fed water systems, and areas subject to persistent drought. However, there is less firm evidence that people do migrate purely for environmental reasons; rather, migration is driven by a number of interacting variables. Therefore, the policy focus has to be broadened beyond environmental concerns, and to shift from fears of a northward-bound exodus to the much more common migration patterns happening within and between Southern countries and regions, as suggested in the German Marshall Fund Report.