Climate variability and international migration: The importance of the agricultural linkage

Ruohong Cai, Shuaizhang Feng, Michael Oppenheimer, Mariola Pytlikova

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

160 Scopus citations


While there is considerable interest in understanding the climate–migration relationship, particularly in the context of concerns about global climatic change, little is known about its underlying mechanisms. In the paper, we combine a rich panel data on annual bilateral international migration flows with an extensive data on climate variability across the countries to investigate in-depth the climate–migration link. We find a positive and statistically significant relationship between temperature and international outmigration only in the most agriculture-dependent countries, consistent with the widely documented adverse impact of temperature on agricultural productivity. Further, the temperature–migration relationship is nonlinear and resembles the nonlinear temperature–yield relationship. In addition, migration flows to current major destinations are especially temperature-sensitive. Policies to address issues related to climate-induced international migration would be more efficient if focused on the agriculture-dependent countries and especially people in those countries whose livelihoods depend on agriculture.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)135-151
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Environmental Economics and Management
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Economics and Econometrics
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


  • Agricultural productivity
  • International migration
  • Nonlinear effect
  • Temperature


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