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Friday, 8 August 2014

The Complex Links Between Climate Change and Migration

Source: Flickr
Climate migration may not be a very mainstream environmental topic, yet is an important, albeit complex, issue that must be addressed.  The latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report acknowledges that climate change will impact migration flows.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) defines environmental migrants as:

“… persons or groups of persons who, for compelling reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad”

Most climate migration normally occurs within borders and usually affects people in poorer areas.  Bangladesh is one of the most vulnerable countries, especially due to water shortages, cyclones and delta erosion.  Pacific island nations are especially at risk, with Kiribati considering relocating its entire population outside the country. 

However, climate migrants have also been documented in developed countries such as Canada and the US.

Intricate Interplay
It is difficult to estimate how many people have already been displaced by climate change.  Many sources claim that 150-200 million people will be climate change refugees by 2050.  

However, climate change is often only one of the issues contributing to migration.  IOM thinks climate change and migration is a “complex nexus” because of associations with other factors such as poverty, governance and population growth.  When surveyed, most migrants often do not attribute their displacement to climate change – even when their movement is linked to sudden climate-linked disasters.

Policy Responses
Many argue that a concrete policy response to climate migration is required – currently, there is no long-term legal protection afforded to environmental refugees. 

The most recent United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of refugees does not provide long-term legal protection to climate migrants.  However, a family from Tuvalu was yesterday granted residency in New Zealand in what is the world’s first successful application for residency on grounds of climate change.

A recent Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung report ‘Time to Act’ also argues that a more radical approach is needed in the EU, precisely because “the complexity of the challenge should not be used as an excuse for not addressing the issue”. 

Despite the unknowns, it’s important to pinpoint climate change’s role in migration and bring the issue to a more mainstream audience.  As the EU Greens say, when it comes to climate change migration, it seems especially important to avoid  the one-size-fits-all approach”.

Blog by Bárbara Mendes-Jorge, Consultant at Brussels-based sustainability communications and PR agency Sustainability Consult.

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