There are a range of ‘positive’ ways of framing the relationship between climate change and migration. This does not mean dismissing the very real dangers that people in at-risk areas face, but it does mean talking about climate-induced migration as part of the ‘solution’ rather than as part as the problem. A frame in which migration is part of the solution starts from the position that migration is not inherently a bad thing. It becomes problematic when it is forced, and causes harm, but this harm can be minimised by planning and working pro-actively with vulnerable communities.
This framing is positive in the sense that it recognises the pros as well as the cons of migration, but also in the sense that it promotes agency for the people who are migrating. This approach would not be appropriate for situations where migration is forced or involuntary. But if it is used to promote rapid action to prevent forced migration, then it may still be a useful frame.
The risk of pursuing this frame is that it may depoliticise a fundamentally political issue into a ‘safe’ space, from where it is impossible to advocate. Using this frame in an effective way means promoting migration as part of the solution while simultaneously highlighting the very real threats that vulnerable populations face.
How can migration be framed as part of the solution? Human populations have always been in flux, and the challenge (as with other impacts of climate change) is to manage the risks effectively through forward planning. The future will hold many challenges, of which this is one, and the best way of managing it is by building resilience. Taking a proactive approach to anticipating the climate-related risks that vulnerable populations will face, and working collaboratively with these groups to plan and make decisions will increase resilience to climate change. For example, one family member migrating for work to supplement a subsistence income could provide a valuable contribution to food security, allowing the family to remain in their current location (if, indeed, they wanted to).
Many impacts of climate change are now unavoidable – but the harm they cause is not inevitable if urgent and effective adaptation is put into place, supported by solidarity between citizens of different nations, who all face a shared challenge. This kind of language – and the framing it embodies – speaks to strongly selftranscending values of kindness, benevolence, and empathy.
This is an edited extract from our report Communicating Climate Change and Migration.