Anticipating sea-level rise and human migration: A review of empirical evidence and avenues for future research

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Sea-level rise (SLR) threatens millions of people living in coastal areas through permanent inundation and other SLR-related hazards. Migration is one way for people to adapt to these coastal changes, but presents an enormous policy challenge given the number of people affected. Knowledge about the relationship between SLR-related hazards and migration is therefore important to allow for anticipatory policymaking. In recent years, an increasing number of empirical studies have investigated, using survey or census data, how SLR-related hazards including flooding, salinization, and erosion together with non-environmental factors influence migration behavior. In this article, we provide a systematic literature review of this empirical work. Our review findings indicate that flooding is not necessarily associated with increased migration. Severe flood events even tend to decrease long-term migration in developing countries, although more research is needed to better understand the underpinnings of this finding. Salinization and erosion do generally lead to migration, but the number of studies is sparse. Several non-environmental factors including wealth and place attachment influence migration alongside SLR-related hazards. Based on the review, we propose a research agenda by outlining knowledge gaps and promising avenues for future research on this topic. Promising research avenues include using behavioral experiments to investigate migration behavior under future SLR scenarios, studying migration among other adaptation strategies, and complementing empirical research with dynamic migration modeling. We conclude that more empirical research on the SLR-migration nexus is needed to properly understand and anticipate the complex dynamics of migration under SLR, and to design adequate policy responses. This article is categorized under:. Climate Economics < Aggregation Techniques for Impacts and Mitigation Costs Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change < Learning from Cases and Analogies Assessing Impacts of Climate Change < Evaluating Future Impacts of Climate Change.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere747
Pages (from-to)1-26
Number of pages26
JournalWiley Interdisciplinary Reviews: Climate Change
Issue number1
Early online date12 Nov 2021
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2022

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research received funding from the European Research Council through the ERC Advanced Grant project COASTMOVE (grant number 884442).

Funding Information:
European Research Council, ERC Advanced Grant COASTMOVE, Grant/Award Number: 884442 Funding information

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 The Authors. WIREs Climate Change published by Wiley Periodicals LLC.


  • Adaptation
  • Migration
  • Sea-level rise
  • Floods
  • Systematic literature review

VU Research Profile

  • Science for Sustainability


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