Tag Archives: climate change

Interactive Google Map – Historical migration and displacement in the Pacific

Cyclone Pam raised the question of population relocation in the Pacific. The idea of people moving within the Pacific is often presented as entirely new. The media present Pacific people as unchanging, having inhabited the same place for milenia. For some people this is true, however the history of the Pacific has also been shaped by people moving. Much of this has been forced movement. Entire populations were removed and relocated, at various points by slavers, colonial authorities or foreign governments.

This history is vitally important to thinking about climate driven migration, displacement and relocation in the Pacific. We’ve mapped some of these relocations and episodes of migration on to a Google Maps layer. We’ll be adding more over the coming weeks.


During the 19th Century the practice of tricking — or simply capturing —  people from Pacific islands was rife. Ships cruised the Pacific capturing people and taking them to work on plantations in Australia, Peru and Fiji. The Polyneisan islands were target during the 1860s, primarily by slavers taking people to Peru.

The Google Map shows the places a group on Tongan slaves were transported to. They were captured on Ata atoll in Tonga. They were transported to a Callau on the West coast of Peru. By the time they arrived, the Peruvian government had banned slavery, so they were put on another ship to be sent back. A corrupt ex-Slaver got he contract to transport them, but dumped them on an uninhabited island of the coast of Costa Rica. When the Peruvian government heard, they sent another ship to retrive them. By this point many had died of small pox. Rather than returning them to Tonga, they took them to Paita, a town in northern Peru.

Pacific islander labourers on a Queensland pineapple plantation, 1890s. Image: Creative Commons / public domain via Wikipedia

Pacific Island labourers on a Queensland pineapple plantation, 1890s. Image: National Library of Australia. Public domain from Wikimedia.

Phosphate mining

In 1945 the population of Banaba Island (Ocean Island as it was called) were move to Rabi island in Fiji. The company mining the island had been agitating to have the citizens moved for decades. The Banabans moved from what is now part of Kiribati to what is now part of Fiji.

“Land Hunger” movements

In 1936 British colonial authorities decided that the Souther Gilbert Islands (now Kiribati) were too crowded. They also wanted to extend the British presence further East into the Pacific. So they moved people to the remote and unihabited Pheonic islands. Having British subjects living on the islands would extend the British sphere on influce in the region. The reloaction did no go well. The islands we badly affected by drought. The onset of the second World War made supplying the islands almost impossible. By 1963 British authories decided that the plan had been a total failure and evacuated the islands.

Nuclear testing

Unclear tests - Pacific islands. Climate change and relocation

The “Baker” explosion, part of Operation Crossroads, a nuclear weapon test by the United States military at Bikini Atoll, July 1946. Image: United States Department of Defense. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Many people were moved, re-moved and evacuated during US nuclear tests in the Pacific. The most famous relocation is of Bikini Atoll, which becme the centre of three decades of nuclear explosions. However the story of the nuclear relocations is not simple. People were not moved once, to a new safe location. For example, the Bikini residents were moved, then moved again when their new home was completely unlivable. Hundreds of people were also evacuated from supposidlty safe islands they had been relocated to. Botched nuclear tests sometimes meant whole populations were suddenly exposed to falling radioactive ash, and had to be suddenly evacuated, and then perminetly relocated.

In 1946 the US Navy moved the population of Bikini atoll to Rongerik, 200 Km to the East. By 1948 it was clear that Rongerik was uninhabitable and they were moved again to Kwajalein.

In 1954 the US detomated a bomb with 1000 times the power of the weapon that destroyed Hiroshima. The “unfavourable” weather conditions meant that the Bikini islanders (who had already been relocated) were exposed to high levels of nuclear fall out. The wind blew a fine layer of radioactive grey dust over their new islands. Two days later the Navy arrived and evacuated the islands.

The examples here paint a picture of failed and botched relocations. While distressing, these stories are vital to understanding how relocations have failed in the past. When the impacts of climate change require yet more movement in the Pacific this history -and the lessons from it – become vitally important.

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Visualising migration and climate change. What can web and social media data tell us about public interest in migration and climate change?

Using data from Google News, we have found that while the total amount of reporting on climate change is decreasing, the proportion of those stories that mention migration is increasing. Read on to find out why. 

Statistics are a notoriously controversial topic when it comes to migration and climate change. The very idea of defining a “climate migrant” and then counting their numbers is fraught with problems. However, data on the public’s interest in migration and climate change is surprisingly easy to find, and even visualise.

With freely available data we can begin to answer questions like: have the public been searching the internet for information about migration and climate change more? Are journalists writing about climate induced displacement more or less in the last 5 years?

One quick caveat. We’re using a lot of phrases that we know are controversial such as “climate refugee” and “climate migrant”. While acknowledging that these phrases are a contested, the frequency with which they are used online is a useful benchmark of public interest.

The Google News service allows searches within a date range. This means we can compare year by year how many news stories are written about climate change and migration. This graph shows news stories that contain the world “climate” and any one of the words “migration”, “displacement” or “refugee”.

This shows us several interesting things. First, a lot more is being written about the topic in the last few years. This is also a graph the number of articles that are specifically about migration and climate change. The key words are in the title of the article, not just anywhere in the text. However, between 2004 and 2015 there is also a lot more online news and blogging. So while  more is being written about migration and climate change, more is also being written about every other topic. We don’t know whether the proportion of stories on migration and climate change has increased or decreased. But we can look at how much of the climate change coverage was about climate change and migration.

This graph shows two things. In red is the total number of news items about climate change. This seems to have peaked and gone into decline. The blue columns show the number of climate change news items that also mention migration (or displacement or refugees). So although the total amount of climate change coverage is declining, the percentage of it that mentions migration is increasing.

Why is this? The total amount of climate change reporting has declined over the past 5 years. After the hope and then disappointment of the Copenhagen climate talks, climate change became less of a story. At the same time, when journalists are writing about climate change they are now far more likely to write about migration and displacement linked to climate change. Perhaps there is a need to produce more compelling and dramatic stories. Whether this produces helpful or unhelpful news stories is another question.

What does this tell us? Journalists and editors are less willing to write (or commission) stories on climate change. They must believe (rightly or wrongly) that the public are less interested in climate change. They probably also see that migration has become a deeply controversial media topic – an issue that the public want to read about. So in recent years, writers have used migration as a way of adding a new and controversial angle to their climate change reporting.

These stark changes in media reporting do not seem to have have had an affect on the public interest in migration and climate change. Or public interest in the issue does not seem to be the driving force behind the changes in media reporting.

climate change and migration data from Google Trends
google_trends_key This shows how often people have searched for phrases relating to climate change and migration. It gives some insight into public fascination with the topic as it shows how frequently people spontaneously look for information on these subjects. While searches for each phrase vary significantly, they no not follow the same pattern as the media reporting.

This graph shows the number of academic journal articles published on migration and climate change every year. The data comes from Google Scholar that archives academic articles.


The graph shows a steady increase in interest, with perhaps a slight decline during 2014. We will have to wait until the end of 2015 to see if this decline continues. The graph does show a growing and significant interest in the issue within the research community, which is positive.


The key issue here is the changing media coverage – with less coverage about climate change in general, but more of that coverage about migration. If journalists are increasingly framing climate change as a migration issue,  it is increasingly important to make sure these stories are accurate. It also becomes more important to encourage journalists to consider how they portray migrants and refugees in their reporting, and the impact this can have on the people they are reporting about.

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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Infographic: exploring evidence for the climate change and conflict connection

Several theories link climate change to armed conflict. But how do they stack up against the evidence? There is evidence that climate change can extend or increase existing conflict, however there are several competing theories about exactly how this happens. We put the theories to the test.

Climate change resources and armed conflict. Infographic of the connections

Yes_conflictThere is certainly a strong connection between climate change and depletion of many natural resources, especially water and growing land.


maybe_conflictHowever, this theory sees a relatively simple connection between resource depletion and conflict.  Scarce resources do not always lead to armed conflict. There are many examples where scarcity is managed peacefully.


climate change, migration, tensions and conflict. Infographic exploring the connections

Yes_conflictThere is good evidence that disasters can lead to migration and displacement. Depending on the disaster, in some cases millions of people can end up moving temporarily or permanently.


no_conflictHowever there is little evidence that migrants create tensions in their new locations, or that new arrivals compete with existing communities over resources. Where these tensions do exist there is little evidence that they result in armed violence.

climate, migration, recruitment and conflict. Infographic

Yes_conflictThere is evidence linking climate change, disasters and displacement. It is also true that after disasters many people are forced into camps.


no_conflictIn general it is not the case that rebel groups recruit in refugee camps. There are a few notable example, however in the vast majority of camps this is not the case.


no_conflictThere is little evidence that the presence of disaster displacees is a primary driver of conflict contagion – where a conflict spreads from one region to another.


While there is evidence that climate change can exacerbate conflict, it is still unclear exactly how one causes the other. It may not be possible to describe a causal mechanism that is true in every case. Rather different mechanisms will operate in different situations and locations.

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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Did climate change lead to the conflict in Syria? We examine new research that claims a powerful link.

A new academic paper points to a connection between climate change and the conflict in Syria. The research also identifies migrants as a key factor in the violence. We’re anticipating a lot of comment and debate on this over the coming week, so in this piece we want to pin down exactly what this new research does (and does not) claim to have found.

The research does point to a strong connection between climate change and armed conflict in Syria. The bulk of the paper examines the connection between rising global temperatures, drought and the impact on agriculture. The paper makes the case that drought decimated agriculture in rural areas. This created new migration into Syrian cities. People moved into substandard housing. Already crumbling infrastructure was unable to support growing populations in cities.

The researchers are also at pains to point out that many other powerful political forces were at play. Obviously among these was the oppressive regime in Syria. The government’s failure to deal with stark inequality, poverty and unemployment fuelled unrest. The fact that there were several million new inhabitants in Syria’s largest cities gave momentum to the armed uprisings.

There is a common – but mistaken – narrative about migration and conflict that goes something like this: people move, they come into contact with new people, they compete for scarce resources, this leads to violence. There is little evidence to support this kind of environmental  determinism. My reading of the paper is that this is not what Kelley et al are claiming either. They are not claiming that the new arrivals in Syrian cities took up arms because they were migrants. The paper does not claim that violence erupted between migrants and people already living in urban areas, or that they fought for scare resources. Or that they fought each other because of religious or ethnic tensions.  The paper (correctly, in my view) claims that the new migrants joined with existing people in cities to unseat the Syrian regime. This is clearly very different from “scarcity” arguments. This paper should not be seen as adding weight to that deterministic model of migration and conflict.

There is currently a raging academic debate about whether a hotter planet will lead to more armed conflict. (We’ve explored this debate in previous blog posts). A number of research papers have found a powerful connection between various climate impacts and armed conflict. Other papers have found a much weaker connection – or no connection at all. Some even found a decrease in violence. Making global generalisations is difficult. However it is a useful exercise to establish whether, in general, climate change will lead to more armed conflict.

A number of researchers have produced meta studies combining much of the existing research to try and work this out. These meta studies have produced varying results. Two recent example found a real, but weak connection. The Kelly et al   paper adds to that body of research. It does not overturn it. This new paper should not be read as showing that a hotter planet will create more violence, in every location and in every situation.

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.

Syria: climate change, drought, migration conflict

Cover / thumbnail image: Andrea Volpini (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) from Flickr.

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Research round up: two papers on climate and migration in the Pacific

Our weekly round up of new research on climate change, migration and displacement.
Envisioning South-South relations in the fields of environmental change and migration in the Pacific Islands – past, present and futures
Eberhard Weber

“Climate change poses severe threats to developing countries. Scientists predict entire states (e.g. Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and Maldives) will become inhabitable. People living in these states have to resettle to other countries. Media and politicians warn that climate change will trigger migration flows in dimensions unknown to date. It is feared that millions from developing countries overwhelm developed societies and increase pressures on anyway ailing social support systems destabilizing societies and becoming a potential source of conflict … If climate change resettlements become necessary in big numbers then Pacific Islanders do not want to become climate change refugees. To include environmental reasons in refugee conventions is not what Pacific Islanders want. They want to migrate in dignity, if it becomes unavoidable to leave their homes.”

Climate Change and State Responsibility – Migration as a Remedy?
Lana Goral

“The consequences of climate change are becoming increasingly clear and there is broad agreement on the fact that it will affect small island developing states to a large extent, to which it may force entire populations to relocate. As the issue of climate induced migration is largely unregulated, this thesis therefore seeks to examine if states could claim state responsibility for climate change, if a migration scheme could be awarded as a form of remedy and if a state could succeed in bringing forward such a case.”

New research - climate and migration

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Podcast: climate change and the Refugee Convention

Should the 1951 Refugee convention include people displaced by climate-linked events? A debate exploring solutions for civilians seeking relocation due to climate change.

Alex Randall  Climate Change & Migration Coalition
Jenniffer Dew International Organization for Migration
Recorded at an event organised by Commonwealth Human Rights Initiative London

States grant refugee status to people outside their nation who have a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, and cannot return for fear of persecution. With the prospect of populations fleeing extreme environmental conditions, many of whom are from small island states within the Commonwealth, is ‘refugee’ an accurate representation of their political status and relocation needs?

Climate change and the Refugee Convention - podcast

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Photo: the aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, Philippines. Climate change and displacement: exploring the connections

Every Monday we pick a compelling photograph related to climate change, migration and displacement and tell the story behind it. 

This photo was taken during the immediate aftermath of Typhoon Haiyan, in the Philippines. It shows Gelian dela Cruz (age 11) standing amongst the rubble of her neighbourhood in Barangay Libertad, Bogo City, Cebu. The photo was taken by Pio Arce working for the European Commission. This is a photo we’ve used repeatedly before in stories about the Philippines, and specifically about typhoon Haiyan.

The displacement caused by the typhoon added another layer to complex patterns of migration and displacement that already exist in the Philippines.

Related: Climate change, displacement and The Philippines: stories of displacement and resilience

In 2009 nearly 10% of the citizens were living outside the Philippines. This overseas workforce has created a powerful flow of remittances into the Philippines which now accounts for over 11% of GDP. With increasing exposure to disasters at home, this flow of remittances from abroad has provided some financial stability for families affected by disasters. Internal displacement remains a key problem. This displacement has a number of causes including conflict and development projects. Three million people were internally displaced between 2000 – 2009 due to conflict and human rights abuses. But disasters are now the most significant factor driving internal displacement.

The relationship between climate change and typhoons is complex, and to some extent unclear. There is some evidence that warmer temperatures create more powerful typhoons. Sea surface temperature is one of the key factors effecting hurricane formation and warmer seas may provide more energy for hurricanes when they form. However there are other major factors currently influencing the frequency and intensity of hurricanes that may not be linked to climate change. Modelling suggests that globally the number of hurricanes may decrease or remain the same, but the intensity and the number of severe storms may increase. However predicting changes to hurricane activity in individual ocean basins is still difficult and uncertain.

Photo Credit Pio Arce/Genesis Photos – World Vision. Creative Commons on Flickr.


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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New research: flooding displacement and conflict / flooding and displacement in Nigeria

Every Thursday we’ll post a couple of new pieces of research on climate change, migration and displacement. If you have suggestions for next week, please post them in comments.

Climate change, environmental security and displacement in Nigeria: Experience from the Niger Delta Flood Disaster, 2012
Luke Amadi, C. U. Mac Ogonor

“The coastal regions of Africa are prone to series of environmental disasters arising from vulnerability of climate change. The October 7th and November 3rd, 2012 coastal floods in the Niger Delta region Nigeria, provides an evidence of the persistence and inevitability of climate change vulnerability which has been an issue of global concern with potential for havoc on human existence including environmental security, displacement and their far reaching consequences … The findings suggest that the 2012 flooding negatively affected the region with evidence of displacement, out migration, impoverishment, food production decline, etc. The paper made some policy recommendations on mitigation of climate change vulnerability.”

Flood-Induced Displacement and Civil Conflict
Ramesh Ghimire, Susana Ferreira, Jeffrey H. Dorfman

“Large, catastrophic floods intensify environmental scarcity and can lead to mass displacement from affected areas. The sudden and mass influx of migrants could increase the risk of social tensions in receiving areas. In this paper, we analyze the impact of the displacement induced by large floods on civil conflict using historical data for 126 countries during 1985–2009. Our results suggest that while the displacement caused by large floods did not ignite new conflicts, it fueled existing conflicts. This effect was larger in developing countries and it receded with time, vanishing five years following the flood.”

Image: Alexandre Baron: (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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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