Issue 8
Monday, 05 October 2020
Charles Darwin University
Research by Dr Kerstin Zander reveals the key drivers people move south
Research by Dr Kerstin Zander reveals the key drivers people move south

Research reveals key drivers for migration south

By Leanne Miles

With the build-up on the way, new research has found that along with the tyranny of distance and high living costs, heat is one of the key drivers moving people from the tropics to Australia’s cooler southern states.

The research published in Sustainable Cities and Society is a joint study by Charles Darwin University academics Professor Stephen Garnett and Dr Kerstin Zander, and links climate change to migration.

“Cities in tropical regions, already hot, will experience more days of extreme heat as the climate changes,” said Dr Zander from CDU’s Northern Institute. 

“While many people adapt to heat, some find high temperatures unbearable, particularly if coupled with high humidity. One adaptation strategy is to move to cooler regions, but empirical evidence for this happening is lacking.”

The researchers conducted a survey in Darwin, Australia, finding that, while “job opportunities down south”, “moving closer to family and friends”, and the “high cost of living”, topped the list of reasons for young people to migrate south; heat and humidity were more important for older age groups.

“We found a strong age-effect,” Dr Zander said. “For young people, economic and social factors dominated migration decisions, with employment the most important.

“Heat became more important than employment as a reason to migrate for people 50 years and older, and was the most important reason to leave in the oldest age bracket (> 69 years).”

The aim of the study was to assess the extent to which heat influenced migration intentions of people living in the tropical city of Darwin, relative to other drivers, and the type of people most likely to leave because of heat. 

With the number of very hot days ( 35 °C) in Darwin set to increase, the researchers suggested that the adoption of climate smart policies would be crucial to maintain populations in the future.  

“Climate change policies need to include climate-driven migration and to be integrated into broader urban development and population growth policies,” Dr Zander said. 

“With the population of some tropical cities already shrinking, further decline can be expected if these cities do not adopt climate smart policies to assist inhabitants to cope with an environment highly likely to become even hotter.”