The heat is on: Asylum-seeking into the EU will increase with climate change


Credit: Carla Schaffer / AAAS

Weather shocks in countries around the world have increased applications by asylum seekers hoping to enter the European Union – a trend that could dramatically increase in the future because of climate change, a new study suggests. By the end of the century, say the authors, even under a slow-warming scenario in which future greenhouse gas emissions decline, applications into the EU could increase by 28%. And, they could increase by 188% under a fast-warming scenario where future emissions continue to increase. Previous studies have found a link between weather variations and migration, but Anouch Missirian and Wolfram Schlenker endeavored to explore this relationship on a greater, global scale. They analyzed EU asylum applications filed from 103 countries between 2000 and 2014 (an average of 351,000 applications per year), comparing these data with environmental data across those countries during the same timeframe, and adjusting for other distress factors such as conflict. They identified a relationship between fluctuations in asylum applications and weather anomalies. The trend begins to affect countries that have average temperatures around 20°Celsius and is more pronounced in countries with higher baseline temperatures. In contrast, cooler countries tend to generate fewer asylum seekers into the EU, as the climate warms. Missirian and Schlenker used the 2000-2014 asylum application data in combination with climate projections in order to estimate how asylum-seeking trends will change in the future, finding that a global temperature increase of 2.6 to 4.8°C may result in 660,000 additional applications into the EU per year by the end of this century. They note that weather fluctuations are known to affect agriculture and GDP (even in developed and industrialized countries that do not have a large agricultural sector), which may help explain the trends observed in this study, they say.


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