Tag Archives: climate change

Round up: analysis of New Zealand case, Pacific relocation, climate & conflict

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What really happened in New Zealand?

This week lots of news outlets claimed that New Zealand created the first “climate change refugees” by granting refugee status status to a family from Tuvalu. This is not completely accurate, but the case is still important and interesting. Here is our analysis of the case:

“New Zealand has just granted residence to a family from Tuvalu. The impacts of climate change in Tuvalu were part of the family’s court case. The case contained several refugee, human rights and humanitarian elements. The claim for refugee status because of climate impacts was rejected. Several human rights claims were also rejected. However their request for residency on humanitarian grounds was granted. Their case detailed how climate change had affected the humanitarian situation in Tuvalu.”

Our analysis also explores how many people this ruling could affect, and the wider policy issues of climate change and migration in the Pacific. UKCCMC


Intrepid PNG woman leads relocation of island community hit by climate change

Ursula Rakova was born in a tropical paradise .. “The sea that we love to swim in is now turning against us,” she told participants in the first “Summit on Women and Climate” in Bali, Indonesia this week. Rakova’s plan was far-reaching: she is leading the permanent resettlement of some 2,000 climate refugees from the atoll to mainland Bougainville, a three-hour ride on a wooden boat on a good day. She is also making sure the islanders will be self-reliant in their new homeland. AlertNet


Climate change, conflict, and cooperation

Although water variability has already been observed across river basins, climate change is predicted to increase variability. Such environmental changes may aggravate political tensions, especially in regions that are not equipped with an appropriate institutional apparatus … The paper investigates to what extent particular mechanisms and institutional designs help mitigate inter-country tensions over shared water.


New Film on Climate Change and Migration in Bangladesh

Bangladesh is one of the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world. How can millions of Bangladeshis protect their families and incomes from rising sea levels, erratic rainfall and temperature extremes? The film-makers follow a group of researchers as they investigate how climate change is causing people to migrate within Bangladesh, as a way of coping. Sussex Global

Alex Randall coordinates the UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author several reports on migration and climate change. He writes regularly on migration, displacement and climate change for a number of outlets.

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What just happened in New Zealand? Did they really just create the first “climate change refugees”?

Let’s be very clear. New Zealand did not just grant asylum to the first “climate refugees”. The family were granted residence in New Zealand on humanitarian grounds. The impacts of climate change formed a large part of the case. However, in the end, the court granted the family residency because of the close family ties they had in New Zealand.


Did the court grant the family refugee status because of climate change


The impacts of climate change in Tuvalu were part of the family’s court case. The family made several legal arguments hoping to be allowed to stay in New Zealand. The case contained several refugee, human rights and humanitarian elements. The claim for refugee status because of climate impacts was rejected. Several human rights claims were also rejected.

Finally the family made two arguments for residency on humanitarian grounds. The first was that the family now had strong family connections in New Zealand. The made a second argument that climate change had created a humanitarian situation in Tuvalu that the family could not return to.


The court decided that the family connections in New Zealand  were enough to give the family residency.

[This post was updated on 8th and 19th of August to better explain residency on humanitarian grounds]


So climate change had nothing to do with it?

Not quite

Having given the family residency the court went on to determine that it is possible, in general,  that natural disasters could create a humanitarian situation. In the case of Tuvalu those natural disasters clearly have a climate change dimension. But the court did not take this into account when granting residency, the family connections were enough.


Can anyone affected by climate change now claim refuge in another country?


Firstly, a decision made by a court in New Zealand does not create an obligation for any other country. Second, the ruling was “discretionary”, which means that the ruling does not create a legal precedent, even in New Zealand. Headlines claiming that the “era of climate refugees has begun” are misleading. This doesn’t mean that the case is totally irrelevant internationally. While courts in other countries are under no obligation to consider this ruling, they could find the logic of the arguments persuasive.


Has this altered the Refugee Convention?


The case reignited a debate about whether the Refugee Convention should be altered so that it does protect people fleeing the impacts of climate change. However, this case did not grant refugee status, so it has no bearing on how New Zealand deals with refugees in the future. It also has no effect on the Refugee Convention, which is international law.

A number of scholars have argued that climate change means that nations should renegotiate the refugee convention. This new Refugee Convention could protect people forced to move by climate change. There are several problems with this. First, identifying who has moved because of climate change is very difficult. So it would be almost impossible to define who this renegotiated Convention would apply to. Second, renegotiating anything comes with risks. There is the possibility that the protection afforded to existing refugees could be weakened during the negotiation process.


How many people does this affect?

We don’t know.

This news story has meant that many outlets have quoted various figures about the number of people who might be displaced climate change in the future. One outlet said that 300 million people might be fleeing climate change by 2050. Another stated that 32 million were displaced in 2012.  These figures are are useful context, but it would be a mistake to think that the New Zealand ruling applied to all all of these people. As we’ve seen this ruling only directly affects New Zealand. More importantly most people who move due to climate change will move within their own country. They will never be in a position to seek refuge abroad.

Are rulings like this a good way of addressing migration and displacement linked to climate change?


Many other policies and projects will also be needed. The vast majority of people affected by climate change will move internally. It is vital that countries respect the rights of people who are displaced internally. It is also vital that countries allow people to move freely within their own country to cope with climate change impacts.

In the Pacific many communities are embarking on planned relocation. The legal status of the people who move is only one element of a relocation plan. A lot of evidence suggests that the success or failure of relocations depends on deep consultation with the moving and receiving communities.


Many people will want to move but will be trapped. As climate change degrades livelihoods people may find it harder to move, even though they want to. Creating opportunities for people to migrate out of harms way is vital.


In all of these cases the legal status of people who move is only one part of the jigsaw.




Alex Randall coordinates the UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author several reports on migration and climate change. He writes regularly on migration, displacement and climate change for a number of outlets.

Cover image.


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Round up: Refuge in New Zealand, children affected by disasters, climate change and conflict

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Tuvalu climate change family win NZ residency appeal

“A Tuvalu family has been granted New Zealand residency after claiming it would be affected by climate change if it returned home. It is the first successful application for residency on humanitarian grounds in which climate change has featured, but the Immigration and Protection Tribunal said the family had strong ties to New Zealand.” New Zealand Herald


Will Climate Change Lead to Conflict or Cooperation?

“The headline of every article about the relationship between climate change and conflict should be “It’s complicated,” according to Clionadh Raleigh. Director of the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Raleigh thinks that researchers and the media have put too simplistic a spin on the link between climate change and violence. In recent years, scientists and the United Nations have been increasing their focus on climate conflict. The debate ranges from sensational reports that say the world will soon erupt into water wars to those who do not think the topic is worthy of discussion at all.”  Inter Press Service


Where would you go? Climate change and disasters.

“Millions of people around the world confronted by earthquakes, tsunamis, droughts or storms have had to answer this question. Due to the increased prevalence and force of natural hazards and climate change related disasters, millions more will likely have to find an answer in the years to come.” The Philippine Star


Mitigating the negative impacts of environmentally driven migration on children and other vulnerable people

“Extreme environmental events are increasingly recognized as a key driver of migration across Asia and the Pacific. More than 20 million children and adults in the region were displaced by such events during 2012, with many fleeing areas struck by monsoon floods and typhoons … policy interventions aimed at addressing environmentally driven migration should pay attention not only to those who migrate, but also to those who do not have the means to move elsewhere.” UNICEF


Event: climate change, conflict, and instability

“Do not miss this topical meeting where you will be given an overview of recent developments in the field of climate change science. We will debate and explore the association between conflict and climate change, using focused case studies. We will discuss local and global disaster risk reduction strategies that may mitigate the impact of climate change. Delegates will engage with representatives from operational organisations to discuss the practical application of concepts and theories discussed during the course of the day.” Friday 31 October. Royal Society of Medicine

Image:  Approaching the Funafuti atoll of Tuvalu. Stefan Lins

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How should the EU respond to migration and climate change?

We have worked with the Heinrich Boell Foundation to investigate how the European Union can respond to migration linked to climate change. Our new report argues that we could avoid the distress and deaths of people en route to Europe by creating new, legal migration options.

The report Time to Act – How the EU Can Lead on Climate Change and Migration is released today.

The report debunks some common myths and provides an understanding of key characteristics of migration in the context of climate change. With a focus on EU policies and legal frameworks in the area of migration and asylum policies, the report presents a series of policy recommendations to the EU.

The authors argue that by taking into account the phenomenon of climate change and migration, the EU can create a humane and functioning immigration and asylum system that is fit for purpose. The report highlights that by creating legal migration channels the EU can avoid the distress and deaths of persons en route to Europe. The EU should set up rules of how and when to provide refuge and protection during increasingly severe climate linked disasters.

Image: Rock Cohen. Creative Commons, from Flickr.


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The “climate refugee” court case shows that the asylum system will be fruitless for people moving due to climate impacts

This article was originally published on Responding to Climate Change

New Zealand just refused asylum to Ioana Teitiota. He claimed that climate change had made returning to Kiribati impossible.

Globally, disasters have affected millions of people. Many will want to remain overseas, or move abroad as climate change impacts make their lives harder. But the  asylum system will be a fruitless way of providing safety for such people. We need a new and different approach to migration and development policy.

Ioana Teitiota’s case is unusual. He has moved across an international border and moved a long distance. Most people who move as a result of climate change impacts move within their own countries and tend not to travel far. When people are fleeing sudden climate-linked disasters like floods and typhoons they tend to move to the nearest place of safety. Often an evacuation centre, the homes of friends and relatives, and often to camps.

This is what happened during flooding in Pakistan and after Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines. When people move because of slowly unfolding disasters like drought or water stress the patterns of movement are different. People will often move alone, rather than with their family or community. They will usually be seeking work in a nearby city as the drought reduces income from farming.

Migration as adaptation

The focus of the climate and migration debate has often been about which countries will or won’t accept new waves of people. But as most of the movement is likely to be internal rather than cross-border, state-level responses are important.

In the case of sudden disasters, city and regional level disaster risk reduction is vital. Other issues emerge when looking as slowly unfolding disasters. When faced with repeated drought of desertification, migration may be the best way for some people adapt to climate change.

Governments often think of migration as a problem that has to be reduced or prevented. Development policy often focuses on helping people where they are and enabling them to stay. But for millions of people migration may be their best adaptation strategy.

When people move away from a drought hit area this can help them, and the community they leave, to  adapt. Out migration means there are fewer people in the disaster prone area. It also means there are fewer people to support from dwindling agricultural income. Migrants will often send remittances back to their family. This income provides some financial stability in the face of wavering income from agriculture. Communities sometime invest remittances in small scale adaptation projects.

Helping out

But what happens when people do cross international borders? As Ioana Teitiota’s case demonstrates, the existing asylum system is unlikely to help. Several considerations are clear:

We should think about people fleeing all disasters.  Any new legal framework should not only help people who are fleeing climate-linked disasters. It should help people who are fleeing any kind of disaster. This would help more people. It would also mean that it wouldn’t matter whether climate change had influenced the disaster.

We should look at existing areas of law that we could easily change. Many countries already have options for people to stay while their countries recover from disasters. This is useless for people whose homes are permanently affected by climate change. But could be a useful interim measure for millions of people who are already working abroad when a disaster strikes.

We should try to reach regional and bilateral agreements, rather than global ones. Six countries around a table is much easier than 192. A small number of countries may be able to produce a regional agreement. This could be quicker than reaching a global agreement. Given that most of the movement is likely to be between nearby countries this makes a lot of sense.

We should try to use existing or emerging international agreements. In 2015 (we hope) governments will reach an agreement on stopping and adapting to climate change. The draft text contains a section asking governments to consider displacement linked to climate change. Or, could the replacement for the Millennium Development goals include provision for migration linked to climate change? Or the new agreement on how governments work together to reduce the risk of disasters? These are all international process that already have momentum. Using them might be quicker and easier than starting a new round of talks.

All of this is cold comfort to Ioana Teitiota who will probably be returned to Kiribati. But it is vital that we consider the questions now to protect people who will move in the future.

Image: NASA.

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Moving Stories: Latin America.

Alex Randall

The Latin American region is one of the most vulnerable to climate change. Many of its countries are located in the hurricane belt; others depend on the thaw of the snow and ice deposits in the Andes to supply water to their urban and agricultural sectors; and several are at high risk from major disasters such as floods. (This is an edited extract from our Moving Stories report. Download the entire report)

Rains recently have been very intense.  Very intense.  Without comparison, like nothing seen before.  Years ago the rainy season lasted two months. November and December.  Water levels reached 20 to 30 Centimetres.  Today, they go past two metres in the last six to seven months.  We’ve never seen this before.  We don’t want to leave our land.  Here are our past, our memories, our ancestors. We don’t want to move to other parts. We don’t know what to do there.  We will turn into delinquents.  We’d enter into a cycle of poverty which happens in the cities. Octavio Rodriguez. Las Caracuchas, Sucre, Colombia

Since 1998, the melting ice from the ice fields in Patagonia has contributed to around 2% of the global annual sea level rise. The region has experienced climate variability and more extreme weather events over recent years, such as intense Venezuelan rainfall (1999, 2005), flooding in Argentina (2000-2002, 2007), Amazon drought (2005), hail storms in Bolivia (2002) and the Greater Buenos Aires area (2006), the unprecedented Hurricane Catarina in the South Atlantic (2004) and the record hurricane season of 2005 in the Caribbean Basin, extreme floods in El Salvador (2011), Tropical storm Matthew in Venezuela (2010) and a series of floods in Colombia (2011).

When I was young, it was quite mild, not such a hot heat. That’s why Illimani is melting. It’s three times as hot. It did not use to be so hot. I am very sad when I see the snowline going up. I don’t want it to be like that. I don’t have any children, but other compañeros in the community, they do have children. They are going to suffer the last days, if there is no water. I am 67 years-old, and I am not going to suffer as I am going to die. But the other villagers, yes they will suffer. That’s why I am so upset that there is not going to be any water. I am going to live another ten to fifteen years, but the others… I am not going to see it. But the young will witness the end of Illimani. 67-year-old Marcos Choque, Khapi, Bolivia

Predicted increases in temperature will severely affect this region and its arable lands. Significantly, 90% of Latin America’s agriculture is rainfed. A survey of rural populations in Peru found that changing rainfall patterns had a ‘severe’ effect on 53% of respondents’ ability to produce food. Other stresses compound the ability of this region to adapt to climatic changes. Demographic pressures as a result of rural to urban migration have led to unemployment and unsanitary conditions, resulting in the spread of infectious diseases.

I am very worried. The snow and ice is disappearing and melting day by day, year by year. The sun is stronger. It doesn’t snow as much. We are very concerned… There could be a tremendous drought. There might be no more snow, no more water coming down. So how would we irrigate our plots of land? My son would have to leave and go somewhere else, to other countries. Lucia Quispe, 38, Khapi, Bolivia

Additionally, over-exploitation is a threat to local production systems and has led to water exploitation and the mismanagement of irrigation systems. Similarly deforestation from agricultural expansion in parts of Argentina, Bolivia, Paraguay and Brazil has caused land degradation. Historically (prior to the 1970s) many Latin American countries were the destination for European migrants and had net immigration situation which has reversed in recent decades.

My grandfather, father and I have worked these lands. But times have changed…the rain is coming later now, so that we produce less. The only solution is to go away, at least for a while. Each year I’m working for 3 to 5 months in Wyoming. That’s my main source of income. But leaving my village forever? No. I was raised here and here I will stay. Miguel, 45 years, Hueyotlipan, Mexico

The debt crisis of the 1980s led to the so called ‘lost decade’; industrialisation growth in the extractive industries and large-scale intensive agriculture were all economic drivers of migration. Flow followthe pattern of urbanisation and emigration to the EU. In 2006 a third of Argentines claimed they would emigrate if they had the resources to do so. In Ecuador the top destination of internal migrants is to newly deforested areas, which are sites of intensive agriculture and jobs. Conflict is another main driver of migratory flows, especially in regards to Columbians fleeing the violence caused by the FARC / government fighting.

The number of government- registered ‘internally displaced persons’ (IDPs) in Colombia rose to 3.9 million in 2010/11, making it the world’s largest internally displaced population. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts that migration from the countryside to the cities will continue. Whilst there are inevitably a range of factors that lead people to migrate, the impact of climate change, especially if livelihoods are damaged, may intensify rural-urban migration. The significance of this is that urban areas will need to adapt to both climatic changes and an increase in population.

Thumbnail image. Creative Commons, from Flickr by Richard777 


Refugees International. (2012). Colombia: Two Years Under Water. [Online Video]. 27 March. Available from: http://bit.ly/13LfUDm. [Accessed 23 August 2013].

Oxfam Bolivia, 2009. Bolivia Climate change, poverty and adaptation. 1st ed. La Paz: Oxfam. Faist, F; Alsher, S, 2009.

EACH-FOR Environmental Change and Forced Migration Scenarios. Mexico case study report. 1st ed. Stockholm: EACH-FOR.

Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, 2010. Climate change: a regional perspective. Unity Summit of Latin America and the Caribbean. 1st ed. Mexico City: ECLAC.

World Bank. 2012. Climate Change: Is Latin America prepared for temperatures to rise 4 degrees?. [ONLINE] Available at: http://bit.ly/VEG3zP. [Accessed 23 August 13].

M.L. Parry, O.F. Canziani, J.P. Palutikof, P.J. van der Linden and C.E. Hanson (eds) (2007). Contribution of Working Group II to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 2007. Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA: Cambridge University Press, Chapter 13, 13.2.2.

BBC News. 2011. Central America floods and landslides ‘leave 80 dead’. [ONLINE] Available at: http://bbc.in/pBYYMq. [Accessed 23 August 13].

Garlati , A, 2013. Climate Change and extreme weather events in Latin America: an exposure index. 1st ed. Washington: Inter-American Development Bank.

Hoffman, M; Grigera, A, 2013. Climate Change, Migration, and Conflict in the Amazon and the Andes: Rising Tensions and Policy Options in South America. 1st ed. Washington: Centre for American Progress.

Ho, Raúl, and Andrea Milan (2012). “Where the Rain Falls” project. Case study: Peru.  Results from Huancayo Province, Junín Region. Report No. 5. Bonn: United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS).

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. 2013. Colombia: Improved government response yet to have impact for IDPs. [ONLINE] Available at: http://bit.ly/qCC7y2. [Accessed 23 August 13].


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Moving Stories report: The voices of people who move in the context of environmental

The voices of people who move in the context of environmental change are absent from the debate about how we addresses the issue.


Download the Moving Stories report.


Moving Stories highlights these powerful, inspiring and often traumatic stories. We compiled Testimonies from ten regions across the world. These came from local news reports, academic journals and interviews recorded by NGOs. The stories highlight different kinds of movement affected by slow– and rapid–onset disasters. The stories show us that movement linked to environmental change is different across the world. The stories also reveal that individual decisions to move or stay vary in even response to the same disaster.

“I go to get registered [as an IDP] and they dismiss me. I don’t want to live here. I don’t want my children out on the streets. In my village I have little but I look after my family.”


There is no “typical” migrant. Moving Stories shows the reality of migration and environmental change. Some stories show how people have used seasonal and temporary, rather then permanent, movement to adapt. Other stories show that remittances have increased the resilience of people affected by disasters. These testimonies give a human voice to this complex and controversial issue.

“…times have changed … The rain is coming later now, so that we produce less. The only solution is to go away, at least for a while. Each year I’m working for 3 to 5 months in Wyoming. That’s my main source of income.”

We don’t have all the answers. But we hope the Moving Stories project helps us to ask better questions about how to address this issue. How can moving become an empowering way for some people to adapt to climate change? What is the role of remittances in building resilience to climate change? Will our existing legal frameworks for protecting the rights of people who move be up to the job in a generation’s time?

“About five years ago the sea ice used to take longer to melt. It lasted about 10 months but now it’s only 8 months. This harms our way of life, our way of hunting, our way of fishing, and our way of travelling from one place to another.”
Nunavut, Canada.

These are all unanswered questions. We designed the Moving Stories project to help everyone consider these questions. If the voices of affected communities are absent from the debate, we have no hope of finding solutions for the people who need them most.

Authors: Alex Randall, Jo Salsbury, Zach White.

Editor: Rebecca Sullivan


Download the Moving Stories report.

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Launch event: Moving Stories. 15th January 2014, 12:00

Moving Stories is a project that collects and presents the testimonies of people who move due to climate-linked disasters. These stories are a powerful and moving exploration of migration and displacement linked to climate change.

About the Moving Stories project

The voices of people who move in the context of environmental change are currently absent from the debate about how this issue is addressed. Moving Stories highlights these powerful, inspiring and often traumatic stories.

Testimonies from ten regions across the world have been compiled from local news reports, academic journals and interviews recorded by civil society groups. The stories highlight different kinds of movement affected by slow and rapid onset disasters.

The stories show us that movement linked to environmental change happens very differently in different parts of the world. The stories also reveal that individual decisions to move or stay vary widely even in response to the same disaster. There is no “typical” migrant.

Moving Stories demonstrate the reality of migration and environmental change. A number of stories show how people have used moving seasonally and temporarily, rather than permanently, as a way of adapting to changing environmental conditions. Several stories demonstrate that remittances from other migrants have increased the resilience of people affected by disasters.

Most importantly these testimonies give a human voice to this complex and controversial issue.






Moving Stories launch event
15th January, 12:00 – 13:30 (GMT+00) London and streamed live online
Overseas Development Institute, 203 Blackfriars Road, London, SE1 8NJ

Moving Stories is being launched as part of a wider event on migration and climate change organised with the Overseas Development Institute, the Climate Change and Development Knowledge Network and COIN.

Sam Bickersteth – Chief Executive, Climate and Development Knowledge Network.
Professor Dominic Kniveton: Professor of Climate Science and Society, University of Sussex
Alex Randall: Climate Outreach and Information Network (COIN).
Veena Ravichandran: Senior Research Advisor, Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN).
Nick Rance: Producer, Television Trust for the Environment

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