The changing climate-migration relationship in China, 1989–2011

Clark Gray, Douglas Hopping, Valerie Mueller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


A persistent concern about the social consequences of climate change is that large, vulnerable populations will be involuntarily displaced. Existing evidence suggests that changes in precipitation and temperature can increase migration in particular contexts, but the potential for this relationship to evolve over time alongside processes of adaptation and development has not been widely explored. To address this issue, we link longitudinal data from 20 thousand Chinese adults from 1989 to 2011 to external data on climate anomalies and use this linked dataset to explore how climatic effects on internal migration have changed over time while controlling for potential spatial and temporal confounders. We find that temperature anomalies initially displaced permanent migrants at the beginning of our study period, but that this effect had reversed by the end of the study period. A parallel analysis of income shares suggests that the explanation might lie in climate vulnerability shifting from agricultural to non-agricultural livelihood activities. Taken together with evidence from previous case studies, our results open the door to a potential future in which development and in situ adaptation allow climate-induced migration to decline over time, even as climate change unfolds.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)103-122
Number of pages20
JournalClimatic Change
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 1 2020


  • China
  • Migration
  • Precipitation
  • Temperature
  • Vulnerability

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Atmospheric Science


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