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Within 30 years, hundreds of millions of people around the world will be forced to migrate due to climate change. While climate migration will occur within the United States, the most challenging aspect of this trend will be international climate migration, which must be managed against a backdrop of existing controversies over asylum and refugee policies. In this paper, the authors provide an introduction to the complex topic of international climate migration for local governments and community leaders engaged in climate action planning, including: 

  • International climate migrants are already coming to the U.S., especially from Central America, where drought has decimated farming economies over the last five years.
  • In the U.S., creating policies to accommodate climate migrants would require a significant shift in immigration politics. However, a proactive stance by U.S. cities, towns and counties can reduce human suffering while presenting opportunities for economic recovery.
  • Local leaders can take actions now with an integrated approach to climate resiliency and refugee resettlement such as including climate migration as a topic in climate action planning; working with universities and nonprofits to survey recent migrants who departed their countries due to climate change; and building on existing “sister city” relationships to explore climate change impacts.
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