How Climate Change Can Impact Urban Migration and Liveability

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How Climate Change Can Impact Urban Migration and Liveability

More than half of the world’s population today lives in cities, with the numbers expected to rise. This trend makes measuring and improving liveability in cities essential.

But what makes a city liveable? Generally speaking, liveability can be assessed by quality-of-life factors like access to fresh water, food, housing, transport, health care, education, and a safe and stable built and natural environment.

A liveable city is also inclusive, encouraging mutual trust and diversity and providing adequate green spaces to help mitigate and adapt to climate change.

Numerous surveys quantify and rank cities’ liveability, including the Economist Intelligence Unit’s (EIU) annual Global Liveability Ranking. The index is a yearly assessment of 173 global cities (previously 140) for their urban quality of life-based on five categories: stability, health care, culture and environment, education and infrastructure.

Ranking cities’ liveability shows what country has the best or worst living conditions.

The EUI 2023 report, the latest one as of writing this blog post, lists their top 10 cities. Vienna holds the top spot, followed by Copenhagen, Melbourne, Sydney, Vancouver, Zurich, Calgary, Geneva, Toronto, Osaka, and Auckland – both cities in Japan and New Zealand tied for the tenth spot.

Dominating the top 10 list due to the widespread accessibility of goods and services, adequate infrastructure, and low personal risk are typical cities from Australia, Canada, western Europe and New Zealand.

A liveable city or an urban area that offers many quality-of-life factors attracts migrants.

According to a WEF report, which discusses the cause and impacts of migration to a destination city, the push factors or reasons why people move to another location include economic factors such as unemployment and poverty, sociopolitical factors such as political instability, safety and security concerns, conflicts, and environmental factors like climate change, crop failure, and food scarcity. 

The pull factors that make people want to move to a particular city or country include job opportunities, better education, family reunification, food security, freedom, abundant natural resources, and a favourable climate – qualities a liveable city possesses or that migrants perceive these cities offer.

Pew Research Center shows that the number of international migrants reached 281 million in 2020, meaning that 3.6% of the world’s population lives outside of the country of their birth. So where do these migrants go?

The article notes that a great majority of these migrants go to three regions, Europe 86.7%, Asia 85.6%, and Northern America 58.7%.

The World Bank’s Groundswell report released in 2021 finds that climate change is an increasing driver of migration and could force 216 million from Sub-Saharan Africa, East Asia and the Pacific, South Asia, North Africa, Latin America, and Eastern Europe, and Central Asia to move within their countries by 2050. People will leave their homes due to increasing water scarcity, declining crop productivity, and rising sea levels and move to urban and rural areas within their borders with better conditions to build new livelihoods.

But as climate change effects worsen and create intolerable extremes in many parts of the world, like what we are beginning to see in recent years, it could threaten food security and the livelihoods of tens of millions of people.

Climate change will make some parts of the world uninhabitable, and people living in these areas will move outside their borders, and the world will soon see a rise in cross-border migration due to climate change. According to CFR, drought-driven migration could triple this century if the world fails to curb its GHG emissions.

However, climate migrants are not afforded refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention, which provides legal protection only to people fleeing persecution due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or particular social group, because identifying them is not easy because they are also living in other regions rife with poverty, violence, and conflict.

While climate change worsens these conditions and fuels instability and tension, it is often overlooked as a factor that drives people to feel their homelands.

The Council for Foreign Relations argues for establishing an international law that will protect climate migrants, especially those that have crossed borders. The article says that although climate migrants have some fundamental rights under existing international human rights law, they are not protected under international law, such as the  1951 UN Refugee Convention, as there is no consensus on how to define them legally.

Granting these climate migrants equal status as refugees and classifying them as “climate refugees” will give them expanded protections, including access to legal services and planned relocation. The change will also signal to wealthier countries, those most responsible for emitting GHG, that they have a responsibility to help these people impacted by climate change.

The article says that protecting climate migrants could open opportunities to revise the 1951 convention to include language on climate migration and create a new Climate Refugee Convention, but the chances of this happening soon are slim because of disagreements over how to classify climate migrants and even how to address climate change.

Nevertheless, individual countries like Argentina, with its Humanitarian visa and Asia Pacific countries’ framework on climate mobility, which they are currently developing, are moving forward with concrete steps on how to deal with climate mobility and climate migrants.


The world’s most liveable cities in 2023. (2023, June 21). The Economist. Retrieved from

The Global Liveability Index 2023. Optimism amid instability. EUI. Retrieved

Lissandrello, C. & Bruyere, S. (2022 August, 22). What makes a city liveable? Ramboll. Retrieved from

Migration and Its Impact on Cities – An Insight Report. (2017 October). World Economic Forum. Retrieved from

Natarajan, A., Moslimani, M., & Lopez, M. (2022, December 16). Key facts about recent trends in global migration. Pew Research Center. Retrieved from,Saudi%20Arabia%20with%2013.5%20million.

Climate Change Could Force 216 Million People to Migrate Within Their Own Countries by 2050. (2021, September 13). The World Bank. Retrieved from

Prange, M. (2022, December 19). Climate Change Is Fueling Migration. Do Climate Migrants Have Legal Protections? Council on Foreign Relations. Retrieved from

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