Ilan Kelman reflects on the Human Migration and the Environment: Futures, Politics, Invention conference. Ilan is reader in Risk, Resilience and Global Health at University College London, his research is focused on three key areas: peace and conflict, island sustainability and risk education.
Human migration and environment research has come of age. In Durham, from 28 June to 1 July, the conference “Human Migration and the Environment: Futures, Politics, Invention” brought together over a hundred researchers, policy makers, and practitioners from numerous disciplines to explain and discuss the latest developments of the environment-migration nexus.
The conference lived up to its subtitle. Futures involved not only the exciting new areas for research but also the challenges expected to be faced by people and the planet as climate change’s impacts are increasingly felt.
Politics focused on both climate change and migration being fundamentally political; in fact, policies to deal with each phenomenon, and both in tandem, often have more impacts than the phenomena themselves. Finally, invention refers to the need for innovation and creativity to deal with the challenges in science, policy, and practice.
This conference demonstrated how at least the scientific challenges can be overcome. The field of human migration and the environment has been dominated in some sectors by climate change, with the assumption that climate change will inevitably cause mass migration. Despite many voices over the years objecting to that view -and to the numbers of supposed ‘climate change refugees’ which would emerge–too many commentators insisted on portraying ‘climate change migration’ as a threat, a burden, and a crisis.
We rarely heard the ‘climate change refugees’ ethos in Durham. Instead, the panels and keynotes were pragmatic, sensible, and critiquing. They demonstrated a depth and breadth of the topic that (i) it is not all about climate change and (ii) the direct connection from climate or environmental change to migration is complex and not deterministic.
After many false starts, this field is maturing and is able to connect with and advance solid science. In the end, we can hope that it will positively influence policy and practice in order to support those who are most affected.