31.01.2011 - UNESCO Social and Human Sciences Sector

UNESCO Book Project for 2011 on Migration, Environment and Climate Change

Flooding in Punjab Province, Pakistan. © UN photo/Evan Schneider

Climate change is one of the major concerns for the international community. Among its consequences, its impact on migration is the object of increasing attention from both policy-makers and researchers. As the Stern Review on the Economics of Climate Change put it, “greater resource scarcity, desertification, risks of droughts and floods, and rising sea levels could drive many millions of people to migrate.’

Yet, despite the interest in the links between climate change and migration, the amount of research on the issue remains limited. There are uncertainties surrounding the actual mechanisms at stake, the number of persons affected and the geographical zones concerned. There are debates between those who stress the direct impact of the environment on population flows and those who rather insist on the social, economic and political contexts in which such flows occur.

The available information is heterogeneous, as it includes policy reports, advocacy publications by IGOs and NGOs, empirical case studies and more normative and legal considerations on the protection to be afforded to ‘environmental migrants’.

The purpose of this UNESCO book project is therefore to provide a comprehensive overview of the climate change – migration nexus. It will review the available evidence and provide detailed analysis of the issues at stake. It will develop a problematic and non-deterministic understanding of the phenomenon that recognises the multicausality of the migration process, and the agency displayed by migrants when taking the decision to leave their home; consequently, it will view ‘environmental migration’ not only as forced and not merely as the last resort solution, but as a strategy among others to cope with socio-economic, political and environmental evolutions – hence the necessary conceptual caution in using notions such as ‘climate refugees’ or ‘environmental migrants’.

Finally, the book will attempt to disentangle the relationship between climate change and migration, notably in terms of spatiality (internal/international and short/long distance movements) and temporality (temporary versus permanent migration, sudden climate hazards versus long-term environmental degradation).

The book will consist of two parts. The first ‘Evidence on the migration – climate change relationship’ provides empirical evidence on the links between climate and migration. It brings together both case studies and synthesis, from different disciplines - including history, sociology, geography and climatology.

The second ‘Policy responses, normative issues and critical perspectives’ investigates the key issues raised by the climate change – migration nexus. These include the social and political context in which the topic has emerged; states’ policy responses and the views of different institutional actors; critical perspectives on the actual relationship between the environment and (forced) migration; the concepts and notions most adequate to address this relationship; gender and human rights implications; and international law and responsibilities.

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