Tag Archives: climate change

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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New research: climate and migration in West Africa / Legal protection in the European Union

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 and Mobility in the West African Sahel: Conceptualising the Local Dimensions of the Environment and Migration Nexus.
Clemens Romankiewicz and Martin Doevenspeck

Despite the theoretical and methodological critique of deterministic and linear explanations of migration under changing climatic conditions, many empirical case studies in this field remain deeply entrenched in static push-pull frameworks and tend to reproduce simplistic causal relationships. Drawing on results from an interdisciplinary research project in Mali and Senegal, the chapter presents a methodological approach that emanates from past analytical shortcomings. By adopting a local perspective on migration, we consider cultural norms, the migration history and people’s interpretations of weather and environmental changes.

Refuge from climate change-related harm: Evaluating the scope of international protection within the Common European Asylum System
Matthew Scott

Extreme weather events have the potential to cause serious harm and can contribute to displacement. Such events are expected to increase in frequency and/or intensity as a consequence of climate change. It is therefore of concern that there is widely considered to be a protection gap when affected individuals cross an international border. However, apart from a handful of cases in Australia and New Zealand, the contours of this perceived gap have not been fully explored in practice. In its judgment in Teitiota v Chief Executive of the Ministry of Business Innovation and Employment, the High Court of New Zealand described a claim brought by a citizen of the low-lying Pacific island nation of Kiribati seeking protection from climate change-related harm as an ‘impermissible’ attempt to ‘dramatically’ expand the scope of the Refugee Convention. Far from spelling the end of litigation, this Chapter argues that this case, along with earlier cases in Australia and New Zealand, helps to clarify ways in which migrants fearing disaster-related harm may secure international protection in an era of climate change.

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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Commentary versus evidence in the climate / conflict debate

Climate change will force to UK to commit its armed forces to new overseas conflicts. This is the belief of Navy Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti. The impacts of climate change, he argues, will destabilise already vulnerable areas. Droughts, heat waves and floods will tip conflict prone areas into full blown war. The UK will have no choice but to respond. Our armed forces will be deployed across the world to protect British interests in the face of an unstable climate.

But is he right? It’s certainly a compelling story.

Morisetti is not alone in his views. In the US the Quardillenail Defense Review recently identified climate change as a new threat to American National Security. The four-yearly assessment by the Department of Defence scans ahead looking for new threats the US. The review identified many of the same issues as Morisetti. Increased frequency of disasters, droughts and displacement would tip the balance in already unstable places. A group of retired US military leaders reached almost the same conclusion.

The Centre for Naval Analyses – a Washington-based military thinktank – asked the retired military figures to asses the risks to US security posed by climate change. Again, the same answer. Disasters, displacement and food shortages would tip the balance. Places already on the edge of armed conflict will be tipped over the edge. The US military will be drawn into the conflicts. Either to protect US interests, or to offer humanitarian assistance. Either way forces will be deployed, lives will be at risk.

With such bold claims you’d expect some very strong evidence to back them up. After all, these military figures and experts are talking about how the armed forces will have to change over the next 50 years. They are trying to shape the kind of armed forces their nations will have. Politicians should rightly ask: what evidence is there to support their claims?

Let’s be clear: this isn’t about contesting the connection between human carbon emissions and the warming planet. This has been established for decades.

Further, we do not need to contest the connection between a hotter planet and various kinds of disasters. The connection between rising global temperatures and heat waves, flooding and increased storms is well established. It isn’t about questioning the link between these events and humanitarian disasters either. The evidence connecting altered rainfall, drought and food shortages is clear. The evidence linking increased rainfall, flooding and displacement is also very well established.

What I do want to question is the link between these humanitarian disasters and an increase in armed conflict.

This is where the academics get involved. As you’d expect, they don’t all agree. Before we delve into why they disagree about the climate – conflict connection its worth looking at how these researchers study it.

This group of academics use two kinds of data. First data about the weather. Changes in rainfall patterns. Data about temperatures and heatwave. Data about the frequency and intensity of hurricanes, typhoons and floods. Most of this comes from the Met Offices and Governments of countries all over the world.

What about data on conflict? Several conflict databases exist. The one most frequently used is compiled by the University of Upsala in Sweden. They gather data from governments, the media and the UN about how many people were killed or injured. They try to establish exactly when and where it happened. And which armed forces, rebel groups or insurgents were involved.

There is a heated debate about whether climate change was one of the forces that created the conflict in Darfur.

Now our academics try to combined various parts of these data sets and look for correlations. Are there more battled deaths in hotter years? Do more conflicts breakout in years with less rainfall? Do more people die in battle shortly after natural disasters? Using all this data the researchers can begin to answer these questions.

The answers to these questions have huge implications. If the relatively small changes we’ve already seen are leading more violence, then this is very worrying. What will happen as temperatures continue to rise?

The problem is, different academics have reach strikingly different conclusions. Some found powerful connections between altered weather patters and increased levels of conflict. Others found exactly the opposite.

These opposing conclusions lead to a heated academic dispute towards the end of 2014. Researchers Burke and Hsiang set about trying to resolve it once and for all. Rather than going back to the original data on weather and conflict, they tried a different approach. They took much of the existing research and work and asked whether – on balance – it pointed towards climate change increasing or decreasing violence. When all of the previous studies were looked at as a whole, what could they tell us?

Their conclusions were shocking. They found that the combined weight of 50 studies on climate and conflict pointed to a powerful connection. The affects of climate change, they argued, were already leading to an increase in violence. Even though some of the 50 studies pointed to a decrease, when looked at together, there was more evidence pointing towards a powerful increase.

But a group of rival academics were having none of it. Burke and Hsiang had excluded a number of key studies from their analysis. When these studies were put back in the mix, everything changed. The climate – conflict connection was much weaker. Further, Burke and Hsiang had also included some studies that were actually about crime, not warfare. And some studies comparing archaeological evidence about weather and conflict from civilisations hundreds of years a ago. Can these studies really tell us anything useful about organised armed violence in modern societies?

When these studies were removed from the mix the connection was weaker still.

So can we draw anything useful from this? First, none of the evidence – from anyone – says there will be an increase in inter-state warfare. It seems (fortunately) that climate change will not cause countries to fight each other. Further, none of the studies suggest that climate change will lead to fundamentally new kinds of conflict. There is some kind of connection between altered weather patterns and civil wars and inter-group violence (two non-government forces fighting each other).

The two sides of the academic debate disagree about how important climate change is. But they agree that when compared to the other forces that create conflict, it is not that important. Other problems – especially weak government institutions, poverty and vast disparities between rich and poor – are still the primary drivers of conflict. We must not ignore climate change as a force that might lead to conflict in the future. But if our aim is preventing conflict, then our focus should remain on tackling poverty, reducing inequality and helping countries build strong democratic institutions.

Image: Bob Bakker

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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Moving Stories: Pakistan. The voices of people who moved during flooding

This article was produced as part of our Moving Stories project.

“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. They throw food at me like I am a beggar. I have never begged for anything in my life, why do they treat me like this?” Shauquat Ali, displaced tenant farmer and father (Aljazeera)

Pakistan is highly exposed to the impacts of climate change. The IPCC have associated increasing temperatures with the severity of the monsoon rains and predict an increase in severity. Northern Pakistan faces increased risk of flooding and landslides. An increase of cyclonic activity will impact Southern Pakistan and the city of Karachi is at high risk from sea-level rise, prolonged cyclonic activity, and greater salt-water intrusion.

Pakistan’s vulnerability is increased due to its reliance upon water from the Indus river and tributaries, which supply two thirds of the water the county uses for irrigation and domestic use. The Indus is fed by the Himalayan glaciers, which are receding significantly, with the likelihood of them disappearing by the year 2035.

Other factors make Pakistan vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Nearly half of the population is dependent on agricultural livelihoods; there is considerable rural poverty, urban unrest, land degradation and shortfalls in food production. Further urbanisation and industrialisation place more pressure upon water supplies which are already threatened by climate change.

“The rains came in the middle of the night, while most people were sleeping. When we woke up, there was water of about 2-3 feet and we did not know how to escape, because our village is far from the main road. The water was very dirty because the floods had damaged our [sanitation and water] facilities. I was very pregnant at the time, and our livestock are our livelihood so we didn’t want to leave them to die, so we did not know what to do. We were rescued in boats by the army and NGOs. We are thankful to be alive, but we lost our livestock and now we are trying to rebuild our livelihood by starting from the beginning.” Fatay and Zulaikar, husband and wife –  pastoralist family in Badin district (CDKN)

In July 2010, Pakistan was affected by heavy monsoon rains, which led to massive flooding in the Indus River basin. More than 10 million people were displaced, with about 20% of the country under water. The death toll was around 2,000. The provision of international aid was widely considered insufficient, with millions of farmers housed in refugee camps, and crops and cattle destroyed. Flooding struck again in 2011. The disaster affected 18 million people and destroyed 1.7 million homes.

In August 2012 following the monsoon floods, the region of Tharparkar experienced significant drought, forcing 600,000 people dependent on rainfed agriculture to internally migrate. The International Federation of Red Cross (IFRC) put the number of displaced people at 250,000. The total number of people affected stands at 4.4 million.

“The water came at night and we didn’t have time to save our belongings; we had to chose whether to save our children and ourselves or our property and assets, so we chose to save our kids. We left everything and ran to save our lives.”
Unnamed survivor of the 2010 floods (World Food Programme)

Floods and natural disasters cause considerable forced migration within Pakistan. Pakistan receives roughly 8% of the total global funding available for dealing with displacement. There are 745,000 IDPs , the majority fleeing from fighting in Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA). But despite such a large IDP population, Pakistan is also a destination for international migrants in the region. It is the top destination for Somali refugees. There are currently 1.6 million Afghan refugees in Pakistan. The country is currently experiencing the world’s largest protracted refugee situation.

As well as vast numbers of displacees and the absorption of neighbouring refugees, Pakistan also has a long history of voluntary migration, which is largely split between unskilled labourers travelling to the Emirates and Dubai and more skilled workers heading for Europe and the US. Pakistani diasporas are amongst the largest and most extensive in the world, supplying remittances to families in Pakistan of $12 billion a year. The IPCC predicted that “circular migration patterns, such as those punctuated by shocks of migrants following extreme weather events, could be expected”. This is supported by the Asia Development Bank which suggests that “environmental factors are already an important driver in migration” and that “floods, cyclones and desertification have led in recent years to significant population movements, mostly from rural to urban areas”.

A fully referenced version of this article is part of our Moving Stories report. 



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How Should Refugee and Migration NGOs Work on Climate Change Issues?

This blog was first published on the Translocal Resilience blog

Should refugee and migration NGOs be involved in responding to climate change? How can these groups be involved in advocacy on the issue? And what (if anything) should be advocated for? These questions do not have simple answers, but this post attempts to put together a compelling case for coordinated advocacy and campaigning by refugee and migration groups.

Should migration and refugee organizations even be carrying out advocacy on migration linked to climate change?

There is a strong case for refugee and migration rights organizations becoming involved in advocacy around mobility linked to climate change. Over the last decade the arena has been dominated by environmental organizations. These green groups have been very successful at pushing the issue up the agenda. Their approach has been one that focuses on the negative impacts of migration. As environmental organizations their focus has also primarily been on galvanizing support around better environmental and climate policy, rather than better migration policy. There is a need for civil society groups that work with people who move to have a voice in this issue. Policy in this area must be shaped by civil society groups who work with and understand the needs of people who move, and grasp the nuances and controversies of carrying out advocacy on migration and displacement. There is a real need for refugee and migration NGOs to take a lead on advocacy in this area.

What should they be advocating for?

There is a clear difference between awareness and policy change. We cannot create political and policy change only by making people aware of an issue. When it comes to migration linked to climate change, where should advocacy be focused? What should NGOs be trying to change and how should they go about it? There are several promising channels for creating policy change. There is a need for new forms of legal protection that can protect people who move across borders during natural disasters. The Nansen Initiative is currently the key forum for the creation of this protection. However, there is also the possibility of addressing the issue through existing mechanisms such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) – where the negotiating text already contains references to migration and displacement. There are also open questions about whether several other international fora could be useful. Could this issue be addressed in the replacement for the Hyogo Framework? Could a Sustainable Development Goal focused on migration and could this help?

Why is advocacy on migration linked to climate change so difficult?

Of course no one pushing for social change has an easy job. But the issue of migration linked to climate change is particularly challenging. Both migration and climate change are deeply controversial topics. The relationship between climate change and migration is also complex. Over the last 10 years research has consistently pointed towards multiple forces – including the environment – interacting to change patterns of mobility. Most evidence suggests the relationship between climate change and migration is not simple, linear, or consistent. Creating compelling advocacy around complex issues can be difficult. Creating engaging stories out of such complexity is also hard. Further, mobilizing and working with affected communities presents a real challenge. Many people who have a climate change dimension to their movement do not necessarily see themselves as having been affected by climate change. Here at the UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition (UKCCMC), we try to address some of these issues through our Moving Stories project.

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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