Migration and Climate Change

Climate change is one of the major concerns for the international community and, among its consequences, its impact on migration is the object of increasing attention from both policy-makers and researchers. 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 so-called ‘environmental migrants’.

The purpose of this project is to provide a comprehensive overview of the climate change – migration nexus. It will provide empirical evidence on the links between climate and migration by bringing together both case studies and synthesis, from different disciplines - including history, sociology, geography and climatology. It will also investigate 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; as well as international law and responsibilities.

This project develops a problematic and non-deterministic understanding of the phenomenon that recognises the multicausality of the migration process, as well as the agency displayed by migrants when taking the decision to leave their home; consequently, it views ‘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 project aims at disentangling 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). This project will lead to the publication of a book in 2010, to be followed with case study report in different regions.

The first stage will consist in publishing a comprehensive book on this issue, to map the field and address all major aspects of the relationship between climate change and migration. This will create the basis upon which to further work on this issue, through the creation of policy-research network and the collection of much-needed empirical material and policy scenarios. All initiatives in this field will be closely embedded within the intersectoral platform on climate change and will be conducted in cooperation with the Science sector.

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