Migration, Risk Management and Climate Change: Evidence and Policy Responses

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Most people will seek shelter in their own countries while others will cross borders in search of better chances. In sum, the early estimates of the numbers who might be forced to move because of the effects of climate change were all over the place and there seems to be a general feeling that given the difficulties in defining the target population, it is simply not useful to devote much energy to coming up with better estimates.

Four million Syrian refugees are more a cause of international concern than 4, refugees. We simply do not have definitive or even tentative numbers or projections about the number of people who may move because of effects of climate change. Or the number of people whose decision to move will be affected in some measure by the effects of climate change. To summarize: Dilemma one is how to conceptualize human mobility and climate change, specifically how to deal with the multi-causal nature of population movements, how to situate those moving because of the effects of climate change in the broader population of people moving for other reasons and how to impress policy-makers with the urgency of the situation without being able responsibly to talk about the magnitude or potential magnitude of the situation.


The temptation may be — especially for climate change advocates — to simplify the message, to highlight the differences between those who move because of the effects of climate change and those moving for other reasons, to dramatize the numbers, but I would caution against that. Policies related to climate change and migration are discussed in different arenas, including in alphabetical order :. Conceptually these eight arenas are all linked.

Good development planning incorporates disaster risk reduction measures. Migration can be a form of adaptation to climate change.

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Humanitarian actors have experience in responding to displacement which will likely increase as a result of the effects of climate change. Climate change mitigation and adaptation projects may displace people. Protecting the human rights of those who move because of the effects of climate change may include environmental assessments of the areas to which they move. Military planners and analysts increasingly see climate change as a national security issue, focusing on mobility but also on resources, geopolitical concerns and the effects of climate change as a contributor to conflict.

Not only are discussions of climate change and migration taking place in different academic arenas, but both national and international policies related to climate change and migration are being made by different people and organizations. Those negotiating climate change agreements in Paris come from different ministries than those preparing emergency disaster response or deciding national laws on displacement. It is a mistake to assume that people working in a government on related issues talk to each other. I find it amazing that even when climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction advocates are working on the same issues, they use different terminology, often meet in different forums, are funded through different mechanisms and sometimes view each other as competitors.

I was heartened in this regard to see efforts to bring together the climate change adaptation network with the regional platform on disaster risk reduction in the Pacific. In addition to the different policy and research arenas, we can add to the mix our different disciplinary backgrounds. Meteorologists and urban planners both have much to contribute to climate change and migration, but they approach the issues differently. The difficulties those of us working in the field have in communicating with each other, much less trying to influence policies, are evident.

The fact is that although we recognize the importance of interdisciplinary work — especially in this field — it is more comfortable to talk with others in our own areas than to take the trouble to reach out to those in other fields. I feel very comfortable in humanitarian circles, moderately so in development, disaster risk reduction DRR and human rights arenas, but less so in the minutiae of climate change negotiations or environmental law.

We need to try to get beyond the different terms and jargon of our own disciplines.

Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict - Center for American Progress

All of this takes time — it is more work for me to read an article in a geography journal than a political science one. Interdisciplinary approaches often demand that we move beyond our comfort zones; the issue of climate change and human mobility has already inspired important interdisciplinary efforts and much more is possible. If we want to influence policy, we need to move toward simpler language. Policy-makers at least sometimes recognize the importance of research, but they have little patience with abstract theoretical research written primarily for other academics.

They are more apt to read short research reports than long academic articles. They like having a limited number of options spelled out. To summarize: The second dilemma stems from the fact that climate change and migration or mobility is an issue in different policy arenas where different disciplines have specific contributions to make. Getting past our different disciplinary backgrounds, and even such seemingly mundane issues as agreeing on terminology, is an obstacle to joint work, including joint advocacy toward policy-makers.

A third dilemma revolves around the different strategies for influencing polices at the global level. There are many cases where new initiatives have been started within existing international structures. There are other policy initiatives which have had their origins outside of existing institutional bodies.

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For example, the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement were developed by the Representative of the Secretary-General on Internally Displaced Persons and the Brookings Project on Internal Displacement through an expert group of international lawyers with an active dissemination strategy. The Nansen Initiative has been a state-led consultative process looking at cross-border disaster-displacement, growing out of the Nansen Conference organized by the Norwegian government in The Nansen Initiative was set up to explore ways of addressing the particular legal gap for those displaced across international borders in the context of disasters, including the effects of climate change.

Established in , the Nansen Initiative also commissioned a number of studies on themes related to cross-border disaster-displacement and held small technical workshops on specific issues. The Nansen Initiative decided early on not to try to come up with a set of definitive guidelines a la the Guiding Principles but rather to build consensus around a Protection Agenda. Academics and civil society have been actively engaged in the process, especially through the Consultative Committee and as participants in the regional consultative meetings.

The process is state-led which means that governments were consulted, hosted the intergovernmental consultations and their views were incorporated each step of the way. The initiative decided early on that it would need to undertake a holistic approach to look at related issues such as the prevention of displacement by addressing regular migration, planned relocation as well as internally displaced persons and not just cross-border movements , within a diverse set of fields, including humanitarian action, human rights protection, migration management, disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, refugee protection and development.

The decision on terminology was not to look at disasters caused by climate change, but rather population movements occurring in the context of disasters and climate change. Its comparative analysis reveals common patterns in enhancing local resilience through migration across diverse regional, socio-economic, cultural, and political contexts. This book is a contribution to the global discussion about the future of migration policy, especially as climate and environmental change is expected to grow as one of the most pressing challenges of our time.

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