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WVU geographer helps prepare for internal climate migration through new World Bank report

Internal climate migrants are rapidly becoming the human face of climate change, according to a new report from World Bank

Brent McCusker, a professor of geography at West Virginia University, has contributed to a study of migration projections in the developing world, including Ethiopia, Mexico and Bangladesh, to help inform government leaders of what to expect from future migration patterns as a result of climate change. 

Brent McCusker
Brent McCusker

“The report was written to consider the community first and foremost. We wrote this to speak directly to those decision makers,” McCusker said. “The report is targeted to people in the countries who need assistance planning for internal migration though 2030 and 2050.”

The study uses a combination of interviews and climate models to make recommendations to policymakers at national, regional and local levels of government. 

“We know through migration studies and existing research why people choose to live where they choose to live. We coupled that with climate models to see least case, worst case and average case scenarios for migration due to climate change,” McCusker said. “With the models, we can change the parameters of preferences for where people want to live and change the characteristics of climate like sea level, precipitation and temperature to see what it would look like for internal migration.”

McCusker and his colleagues traveled and conducted extensive fieldwork in Ethiopia and Bangladesh.  

“(McCusker’s) work with the World Bank will assist governmental and non-governmental organizations to deal with the continued internal and cross-border migrations that are part of, and a consequence of, our changing societal organizations and constantly changing environment,” said Timothy Carr, chair of the Department of Geology and Geography.

They inquired about the characteristics of places that might encourage individuals or communities to move toward them and away from them. 

“We used the long history of migration in each of these countries to temper and constrain what we reported. People will move internally. It will lead to issues, but we give recommendations on how to manage the process and begin to think about it,” McCusker said. “Change will happen, but we’re not just going to say, ‘here it is, deal with it.’ We actually give substantive guidance on how and where to begin planning for it.”

Broadly, McCusker works with the U.S. Agency for International Development on vulnerability mapping, which examines where pockets of vulnerable populations live in the developing world. His region of focus includes countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

“We’ve done the most advanced vulnerability mapping. We take actual household interviews of lots of people and map them,” McCusker said. “Very few people do this because it is difficult to do—it takes a lot of effort and time, and not a lot of people who are experts in mapping understand how to identify which variables are important with human vulnerability. This method gives the World Bank report that scientific approach to human vulnerability that’s justified in the literature. It is guidance based on validated science.”