Trust, temperature fluctuations, and asylum applications

Produced as part of the Climate information for adaptation CCCEP research programme theme

This paper studies the relationship between generalised trust, temperature fluctuations during the maize growing season, and international migration by asylum seekers.

A priori generalised trust between citizens can be expected to have an ambiguous effect on migration. On the one hand, countries with higher levels of trust may exhibit higher adaptive capacity to the temperature fluctuations caused by climate change and, as a result, lower rates of climate-induced migration. On the other hand, trust may facilitate migration by increasing the likelihood that communities invest in risk sharing through migration and enjoy reliable networks supporting migrants. Hence, it is an empirical question of whether trust mitigates or increases the impact of climate change on migration. We answer this question focusing on asylum seekers.

The paper’s findings are consistent with an ambiguous effect of trust on migration. The authors find that for moderate temperature fluctuations, trust mitigates the impact of weather on migration by asylum seekers because trust plays a role in increasing people’s capacity to adapt to the fluctuations. However, where there are severe temperature fluctuations which significantly affect agriculture and make adaptation much harder, communities with higher levels of trust experience more migration.

Overall, the former effect dominates the latter, so that the net effect is that trust mitigates migration by asylum seekers – given that moderate temperature fluctuations occur with higher frequency. These findings point to important policy implications concerning the role of trust in fostering adaptation by facilitating collective action, and the need for targeted interventions to support climate change adaptation and to increase resilience in low-trust societies in which collective action may be harder to achieve.

Key points for decision-makers

  • ‘Generalised trust’ means trust in other members of society.
  • The paper investigates the role of generalised trust in potentially mitigating the effect of temperature fluctuations on asylum applications to the European Union by facilitating collective action in increasing adaptation and resilience to climate change in developing countries – the countries of origin for asylum seekers.
  • Substantial heterogeneity exists in how resilient countries are to climate change, even within the same country. In this respect, informal ‘institutions’, such as trust, are expected to play a major role in increasing the resilience of a country by fostering adaptation.
  • The authors find that for moderate temperature fluctuations (with average temperatures of 25–28°C), trust mitigates the impact of temperature shocks on migration as it is shown to facilitate local investments, through collective action, in adaptive capacity, which can take the form of crop and animal diversification, acquisition of machinery, or development of irrigation systems.
  • For more severe temperature increases (above 28°C), which are extremely detrimental for agriculture, countries with higher trust experience more migration, with villagers helping migrants to leave the country and trusting them to send back remittances.
  • The authors make two main recommendations to policymakers and practitioners, following from the results: first, joining the call for supporting the creation of pro-social preferences in society; and second, considering it essential that governments, international organisations, and non-governmental organisations invest in facilitating climate change adaptation, and provide insurance mechanisms, in contexts in which trust among members of the same community may be insufficient, on its own, to support effective collective action.
  • To the best of the authors’ knowledge, this is the first study to explore the relationship between trust, temperature fluctuations and migration.