The Midwest: Unleashed Potential for Climate Migration and Sustainable Solutions

Following the excitement of COP28 and the first-ever global stocktake, local geographies are feeling pressure to accommodate climate solutions. COP28’s thematic programming addressed multi-sector challenges covering critical topics ranging from health, relief and finance, to trade, gender equality and accountability—all intersecting with climate solutions. Commitment to inclusivity was at the forefront of the conference, amplifying diverse voices and encouraging action at all levels. The conference saw pledges exceeding $186 million for climate action.

The major question governments, businesses and youth are grappling with is how exactly they can make this large-scale change in infrastructure a reality. It’s not just about the environment; it’s about policies, profits and people. As we step away from the global stage, the United States looks inward for solutions. The Midwest, including cities like Chicago, Detroit and Milwaukee, consists of varied geographical environments, cultural diversity and economic potential, and is poised to attract climate migrants—a shift that presents opportunities for businesses looking to expand.

Economic Opportunity

With an increasing corporate emphasis on sustainability, the region’s proactive adoption of green technologies and sustainable practices positions itself as fertile ground for both innovation and investment. Its strong agriculture sector offers agribusinesses a chance to adopt climate-smart practices, boosting the economy and promoting environmental stewardship.

The convergence of climate migration and business expansion presents the Midwest with a pivotal moment to embrace and accelerate progress in key sectors like transportation, manufacturing and food and agriculture. By fostering an ecosystem that supports and welcomes these migrations, the Midwest can harness a skilled and diverse workforce, offering a competitive edge for businesses aiming to establish or expand their presence in the region.

Local Resources

Due to its rich natural resources, such as freshwater reserves and fertile farmlands, the Midwest is resilient and capable of accommodating a growing population throughout evolving environmental conditions. The Great Lakes are a critical resource as water scarcity concerns escalate in other regions. The Midwest’s strategic geographic location, away from vulnerable coastlines susceptible to sea-level rise, solidifies its appeal for those seeking sanctuary from climate-related challenges.

A Just Transition

A “just transition” in the context of climate change refers to a fair shift from an economy reliant on fossil fuels to one that is environmentally sustainable and socially equitable. It is comprised of policy frameworks, workers’ rights, inclusive economic opportunities and environmental justice—all of which impact the business and communities we operate within.

In the pursuit of a just transition, businesses in the Midwest must take a cue from Chicago’s history—a natural crossroads. Climate justice should be woven into the fabric of corporate strategies, recognizing the critical role businesses play in promoting equity and safeguarding public health. This involves prioritizing equitable practices that mitigate the disproportionate health impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations. As the Midwest attracts both climate migrants and businesses, a concerted effort to integrate climate equity into corporate strategies can contribute to a resilient and thriving region.

In today’s world, environmental challenges transcend borders, and local businesses cannot operate in isolation. In realizing the pledges and promises made at COP28, the Midwest will continue to act as a significant player, welcoming climate migrants, enforcing sustainable practices and embracing the challenges and opportunities that come with building a resilient and inclusive future. To learn more about the impact of climate change and other regional risks and opportunities impacting the global operating environment, click here to subscribe to APCO’s quarterly Geopolitical Radar, a report that offers a timely snapshot of the global operating environment for businesses and offers a baseline from which to develop strategies to navigate, mitigate and grow through these risks.