Policy Forum

Assessing human habitability and migration

See allHide authors and affiliations

Science  18 Jun 2021:
Vol. 372, Issue 6548, pp. 1279-1283
DOI: 10.1126/science.abi8603

You are currently viewing the summary.

View Full Text

Log in to view the full text

Log in through your institution

Log in through your institution

Summary

Habitability loss is increasingly recognized as an important dimension of climate risk assessment and one with complex linkages to migration. Most habitability assessments, like climate risk assessments more generally, are based on “top-down” approaches that apply quantitative models using uniform methodologies and generalizable assumptions at global and regional scales, privileging physical sciences over social science–informed understandings of local vulnerability and adaptive capacity. Many assessments have focused on a single climate hazard threshold (such as permanent inundation or the 1-in-100-year flood), and a subset have implied that outmigration may be one of the few viable adaptation responses (1). There is a risk that such climate determinism minimizes the potential for human agency to find creative, locally appropriate solutions. Although top-down modeling can serve a useful purpose in identifying potential future “hot spots” for habitability decline and potential outmigration, only by integrating “bottom-up” insights related to place-based physical systems and social contexts, including potential adaptive responses, will we arrive at a more nuanced understanding. This integrated framework would encourage development of policies that identify the most feasible and actionable local adaptation options across diverse geographies and groups, rather than options that are deterministic and one-size-fits-all and encourage binary “migrate or not” decisions. We propose a set of recommendations centered around building the research and assessment knowledge base most needed to inform policy responses around habitability loss and migration.

View Full Text

Stay Connected to Science