Tag Archives: climate change

Not the end for displacement at the Paris climate talks

This week many people have been worried that any discussion of displacement and migration might be gone from the Paris climate change talks.

Over the past few months a draft agreement has been hammered out in a series of smaller meetings. World leaders will then meet in Paris to negotiate on the final version. Of course leaders and their civil servants may radically alter the draft agreement over the two weeks of negotiations. But the draft of the agreement they start with is still vitally important.

There have been several versions of this draft text over the past year. It has changed after each interim meeting as states try to agree reach agreement. But if you look back at any of them you’ll find this paragraph:

Provisions for establishing a climate change displacement coordination facility that:

  • Provides support for emergency relief;
  • Assists in providing organized migration and planned relocation;
  • Undertakes compensation measures.

This paragraph has gone from the latest version of the text. This lead to many fearing that the issue of climate linked displacement was gone from the Paris climate negotiations. Clearly it is not good that this paragraph no longer forms part of the agreement states will begin negotiating in Paris. In fact a huge amount of specific detail has been removed between the current draft and the previous draft. The drafts produced in February and June were over 80 pages long. The current draft is 20 pages. Getting the draft agreement down to roughly this size is a vital part of producing an agreement that stands a chance of success.

However we should not see the paragraph’s removal as a mere formality. The paragraph on displacement was supported by many of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It was supported by many of the poorest countries, who are likely to suffer the consequences unchecked climate change. For many of these countries climate-linked displacement is a very real problem. Wealthier or high emitting countries possibly saw the paragraph as creating a number of obligations. Firstly a financial obligation, to assist during disasters. Secondly, the beginnings of an obligation to allow entry into their countries for people forced to move by climate impacts.

However this is short sighted of states that have pushed for the removal of the displacement paragraph. The paragraph calls for coordination and organisation. The hope of the paragraph was that human movement linked to climate change might happen in an organised way, rather than in a chaotic and disordered way. If we’ve learned anything in Europe over past few months it that when displacement happens, it is far better for governments to be coordinated and organised. Chaos benefits no one.

I asked Koko Warner – who has been deeply involved in the the UN process for many years –  about the missing  paragraph. Her argument is that we should not see this as the end of the line. There are still a number of reasons to be hopeful about the presence of migration and displacement in the Paris talks. Removing specific detail doesn’t necessarily mean that the proposals can’t be reintroduced. It may be that a state will attempt to re-insert the deleted paragraph during the negotiations in Paris. Walter Kalin –  a leading humanitarian and international law expert – shared a similar reflection. A paragraph’s deletion is not the end, if there is broad enough support it can be reintroduced at a later stage.

But we must begin to ask: what happens if the paragraph is not in the agreement?

The absence of this paragraph from the final agreement doesn’t prevent states reaching agreement on the climate linked displacement in the future. The absence of the displacement paragraph means there is more space for states to drag their feet, or object entirely. But this will be the case with many aspects of the agreement. Any global agreement amounting to only a few tens of pages will inevitably create hundreds of areas that require states to meet again and negotiate more detailed plans. In the absence of the displacement paragraph we can hope that the Paris talks lay the groundwork for future coordination between states on displacement linked to climate change – even if the final text itself does not contain the concrete proposals for how this can happen.

The Paris climate talks are not the only show in town when it comes to climate linked displacement and migration. The issue of human movement linked to climate change touches on so many different areas of international cooperation that trying to address the issue in one agreement may not work.

Here are just a few international agreement that have a bearing on migration and displacement linked to climate change:

  • This year states agreed the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction. The Framework outlines how states will cooperate to reduce the impact of disasters. The agreement “contains important language on displacement linked to climate change.
  • The Nansen Initiative is a state led process currently creating a new framework protecting people displaced across borders by disasters, including the impacts of climate change.
  • The vast majority of climate linked displacement will take place within countries. People will not cross international borders. They should be protected by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. There is work to be done making sure states properly adhere to these principal during episodes of displacement.

These international agreements do not mean we can be complacent about Paris. Rather, they show us that this year’s climate negotiations are not the only chance for creating policies that will protect people at risk of displacement due to the impacts of climate change.

Alex Randall is the project manager of the Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author of a number of the Coalition’s reports, as well as numerous blogs and comment pieces.

Image: Sean X Liu (CC BY-SA 2.0) from Flickr.

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Video / presentation: climate change and the refugee crisis

The unfolding refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East has left many people asking whether the situation is related to climate change. Several media reports have drawn connections between climate change and the onset of conflict in Syria.

Alex Randall is the project manager of the Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author of a number of the Coalition’s reports, as well as numerous blogs and comment pieces.

Images: Chrisser (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) from Flcikr

Jey OH photographie from Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Briefing Q&A: climate change and the refugee crisis

Watch a video version of this briefing

The unfolding refugee crisis in Europe and the Middle East has left many people asking whether the situation is related to climate change. Several media reports have drawn connections between climate change and the current crisis, and predicted that similar crises might unfold more often in the future as the planet warms. As one of the world’s only organisations dedicated to the issue, we have produced this briefing which explores the relationship between climate change and human movement. It aims to set climate change in context along with the many other drivers of human movement.


What is the relationship between climate change and human movement?

Natural disasters across the world displaced 22 million people in 2014. Most of the displacement was created by weather related disasters. There are important connections between climate change and the movement of people.

When people are forced to move by the impacts of climate change, they usually move internally rather than across international borders.

In response to sudden disasters such as floods and typhoons, which are increasingly exacerbated by climate change, people often move a short distance to the nearest place of safety within their own country, and often return after the disaster during reconstruction.

“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)

In response to slowly unfolding climate change impacts such as droughts, people often move to find alternative work as their livelihoods are eroded. People usually move within their own country rather than crossing international borders. As agricultural livelihoods are degraded, people often move from rural to urban areas where alternative work is available. Rather than entire families moving together, one or two individuals will move at a time.

In some cases, both sudden and slowly unfolding weather-related disasters can create movement across borders. However, this is usually only the case when several other forces are at play. Cross border migration is more likely to happen when a climate linked disaster is combined with other political factors such as conflict or persecution.

“And since there was the war, we did not receive any support from the government. Therefore, there are combined factors that made us suffer: droughts and war. If war did not exist, then we might have been able to stay, but now that the land is looted, there is no way for us to claim it.”
Somali farmer, Nakiavale Settlement, Uganda (UNHCR / UNU)

In the future, climate change is most likely to create patterns of migration and displacement that follow these existing patterns. There have been a number of media reports suggesting that climate change might create future crises like the one currently taking place in Europe and the Middle East.

However it is clear that most future climate-linked migration is likely to be internal and short distance rather than across continents.

podcast_iconPodcast: understanding slow and rapid on set disasters. Listen to our podcast exploring testimonies from people moving due to climate linked events.

report_iconMoving Stories: testimonies from people who in the context of climate change. Testimonies and analysis exploring the links between climate and migration.

report_iconMyth buster: climate change, migration and displacement. What we know and what we don’t know about the links between climate and migration


Are any of the refugees entering Europe fleeing the impacts of climate change?

Whilst climate change is increasingly a driver of internal displacement, most of the people currently entering Europe are fleeing the conflict in Syria. Others are fleeing from conflict and human rights abuses in other countries such as Afghanistan and Eritrea. However some research suggests a connection between climate change and the drought that immediately preceded the conflict in Syria. The main driver behind recent increases in the numbers of people fleeing relates to the worsening of the violence in Syria, and the deteriorating situation in many of the refugee camps along the Syrian border.

analysis2Climate change and the situation in the Mediterranean​. Our analysis explores the key drivers behind the increased number of people crossing the Med

analysis2 Climate change and the refugee situation in Calais​. This analysis examines claims in the media that there is a climate dimension the refugee situation in Calais


Was the war in Syria caused by drought and the impacts of climate change?

The causes of the four-year conflict in Syria are primarily political. Key among these was the attempt in 2011 to overthrow the Assad regime, which subsequently descended into an ongoing civil war. Some recent research suggested that a prolonged drought just before the 2011 uprising may have been an important factor, but it should be seen as only one contributing factor.


Infographic: Understanding the connections between climate and conflict This infographic explores and critiques the possible links


Analysis: Climate change and the Syria conflict Researchers have claimed an important drought. We examine the findings in detail.


Analysis: Evidence linking climate change and armed violence Academics currently disagree on the role of climate change and conflict. Find out why.


Analysis: Climate change, terrorism and the rise of ISIS. Media reports have pointed to climate change as a driver of terrorism. We examine the claims.


How should we respond?

We support a series of legal and political responses that are designed to support and protect people who might be displaced by climate impacts, or who may want to move as a way of adapting to climate change. The need to create safe and legal routes for people to move are at the heart of these responses. This applies to both the current European situation and future displacement and migration that might occur in response to climate change.

  1. New international initiatives allowing people to move after disasters. The Nansen Initiative proposes creating a new ‘protection agenda’ in which states would agree to allow people to cross international borders after natural disasters. The agreement which is currently being developed represents the most promising way of allowing people to move legally and safely after disasters – including disasters that are linked to climate change.
  2. Migration as Adaptation to climate change. In the face of slowly unfolding climate change impacts, people may need to migrate as a way of adapting to climate change. There are a great deal of international negotiations regarding Adaptation, including the upcoming UN Paris meeting, and many argue that migration must be recognised as a valid form of adaptation.
  3. Using and modifying existing laws to help people move after disasters. Governments also have several existing options that they should use more readily to assist people who need to cross borders after disasters. For example, many countries have offered temporary humanitarian visas to people who have been forced to move by disasters.
  4. Protecting the rights of internally displaced people. Existing international agreements already protect the rights of people who are forced to move internally by disasters or conflict. The key agreement is the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. Governments will increasingly need to act during climate-linked disasters to ensure that the Principles are properly applied.

report_iconBriefing: Protecting the rights of people who move in the context of climate change

report_iconReport: Migration as Adaptation to climate change

For more information contact please email us: alex.randall[at]climateoutreach.org.uk

Download this briefing as a PDF. 

Alex Randall is the project manager of the Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author of a number of the Coalition’s reports, as well as numerous blogs and comment pieces.

Images: Chrisser (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0) from Flcikr

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New book: stop climate crimes – the call of civil society. Our chapter explores migration and climate change

Stop climate crimes - book with chapter on migration, displacement and climate change. Alex Randall (UKCCMC) and Francios Gemene

Alex Randall (UKCCMC) and François Gemenne (University of Versailles / SciencesPo)
have authored a chapter for the new book Crime climatique stop, L’appel de la société civile (Stop climate crime, A call from civil society).

In the chapter the authors explore how climate change is affecting some of the world’s most vulnerable people and forcing them from their homes. The chapter contains testimonies gathered by the Climate Change and Migration Coalition, which also featured in our Moving Stories publication.

Other chapter authors include Naomi Klein, Bill McKibben and Vandana Shiva. The book is edited by 350.org and Attac France and published by Le Seuil (In French).

The Chapter opens: “In 2013 , natural disasters forced 22 million people to flee their homes. A number that exceeds the ‘political’ refugees in the legal sense of the term, those forced to leave their homes because of violence and persecution, and whose number stands at 16.9 million. This figure does not include those displaced by the more progressive impacts of climate change, the number of which is currently impossible to estimate.”

Alex Randall is the project manager of the Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author of a number of the Coalition’s reports, as well as numerous blogs and comment pieces.

The book is available from the Attac France website – €20

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Climate change and terrorism: understanding the political narrative

Several prominent commentators have drawn connections between climate change and the rise of ISIS. US Democrat hopeful Martin O’Malley claimed that climate change has lead to the “extreme poverty that has led now to the rise of ISIL and this extreme violence”. John Kerry also argued that climate change would exacerbate Europe’s migration “crisis” and lead to the spread of extremism.

Climate change sceptics and Republicans were quick to respond.

This argument is interesting for several reasons reasons. O’Malley and others who have made the connection are partly correct. There are connections between climate change and armed violence. They are only partly right, and their assertions are simplistic. But by presenting this (simplistic) case they have enraged the climate change sceptics on the US Right. But the narrative linking climate change and terrorism is mainly designed by Democrats to convince the sceptical US right wing of the need for action on climate change.

So, is there a link between climate change and ISIS?

The short answer is somewhere between “sort of” and “maybe”. Here is how the argument goes. Climate change has lead to more drought. Syria encountered a prolonged drought over the last decade. And there is good evidence that the severity of the Syrian drought was increased by human caused climate change. Rural agricultural livelihood were degraded and people could no longer support themselves. Many moved into Syria’s cities in the hope of finding work. This is a common pattern of internal migration linked to climate change.

Many of the new arrivals found themselves living in appalling slum-like conditions. Anger grew at the regime’s many failings and human rights abuses. Including the failure to deal properly with the drought. Anger and a larger number of people living in urban poverty provided the conditions for the start of an uprising against the regime.

It seems fair to link climate change, the Syrian drought and the initial uprising. (Read our analysis of the research behind these connections).

The uprising began as a secular movement hoping to topple the Syrian regime. But rapidly descended into a sectarian war. What began as a popular uprising demanding democracy, was replaced by a battle between extremist groups and the Assad regime. The path from the uprising into sectarian civil war had little to do with climate change.

Several political factors made this transition from uprising to civil war possible. It isn’t be possible to give an exhaustive or detailed account of these factors. But it is worth pointing to a few to demonstrate the interplay between climatic and political factors.

The presence of ISIS in Iraq

After the invasion of Iraq the US and their allies failed to create security forces capable of retaining control of the country. They also failed to create democratic institutions that most Iraqi citizens viewed as fair or legitimate.

The US made much of the new one million strong Iraqi security services it had put in place. The reality was that this new force was incapable of dealing with ISIS. Corruption and desertion often handed ISIS easy victories. ISIS took the cities of Falluja and Mosul with more ease than many expected. Having gained strength in Iraq there was little to stop the flow of people and weapons between Iraq and Syria. The initial uprising in Syria may have been partly caused by climate change. But the unstable situation in Iraq was key to the uprising descending into a protracted conflict involving ISIS.

Climate change and the rise of ISIS

Damascus, Syria in 2007. Neil Hester, Creative Commons, Flickr.

The presence of weapons and funding

Several wealthy countries have fuelled the violence by funding and supporting opposition groups. In some cases funding has been knowingly given to terrorist organisations in the hope they will topple the Assad regime.

The UK and US have consistently funded opposition fighters. Although ISIS were never directly handed weapons by the UK or US, much of the military hardware has ended up in the hands of ISIS. The conflict in Syria is not simply between a united group of rebels and the Assad regime. Several non-state actors are also at war with each other, including ISIS. During this inter-group warfare ISIS have captured weaponry that was intended for the fight against the Assad regime.

Other countries have also contributed to the flow of weapons and money into Syria. Wealthy individuals within Saudi Arabia, Dubai and Kuwait have funded violent groups across the middle east. Including in Syria in the hope of deposing Assad. The governments of those countries have failed to intervene and control this flow of cash. Again much of this funding has intentionally or accidentally ended up in the hands of ISIS.
Again, this flow of cash and weaponry has little to do with climate change. The initial conditions for the uprising have a climate change connection. But the path from secular uprising to protracted civil war had other political, military and financial causes.

Why have prominent US politicians been making the climate – ISIS connection?

In the US the most powerful predictor for acceptance of climate change is political belief. Knowing someone’s political persuasion is the surest way of predicting whether they think climate change is real or not. Democrats are – in general – advocates for tackling climate change. For Republicans climate scepticism has become a political badge of honour.

Democrat politicians are searching for a compelling climate change narrative to convince the sceptical Republican right. A key issue they’ve hit on is the connection between climate change and national security. National security is a key Republican issue (more than it is a Democrat issue). By connecting climate change and national security, they hope to soften Republican opposition to their climate policies. Linking climate change to rise of ISIS is part of this strategy.

By presenting climate change as a force that might give rise to new terrorist groups that threaten America’s national security, they hope to win Republican support for action on climate change. Or perhaps at least reach a point of cross party agreement on climate change enjoyed by many other countries.
But it is difficult to say how successful this strategy has been. The links between climate change and terrorism are complex and uncertain as we’ve seen. This makes these claims a prime target for climate change sceptics. They have found it fairly easy to pour scorn on the climate – ISIS connection, simply because there are so many other forces involved.

The Obama administration has had a number of key failings in dealing with conflict in the Middle East. Arguably they are the same failings a Republican administration might have made. However the climate sceptic Republicans have framed the Democrat arguments as ‘making excuses’ for their foreign policy failings. In an attempt to create ‘Republican friendly’ climate change narratives the democrats have actually handed their opponents more ammunition.

Alex Randall is the project manager of the Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author of a number of the Coalition’s reports, as well as numerous blogs and comment pieces.

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Climate change and the Calais refugee “crisis”. Is there a climate connection?

Are any of the refugees attempting to cross the channel from France to the UK fleeing climate change? The short answer is probably not. But the New Scientist ran an Op Ed arguing that the “chaos” in Calais is “a taste of what a warmer world may bring”. The piece argues that the situation in Calais – resembling a “dystopian sci-fi movie” – could become common in the future as more people flee climate change impacts.

Let’s unpack the the claims of the article and see how they stack up against the available evidence.

Are climate change impacts causing people to move?

There is good evidence that climate change is already creating new patterns of migration and displacement. Climate change is leading to more frequent or powerful sudden disasters (such as Typhoons and flash floods) and these are forcing people to flee. In general when people face these sudden disasters, they tend not to move far. Usually they remain within their own country. Climate change is also worsening some slowly unfolding disasters like droughts and desertification. As these disasters erode peoples’ agricultural livelihoods they often move to find other work. Usually they move within their own countries and often to the nearest big city of town.
Are people in Calais at the moment fleeing climate change impacts?
This seems unlikely. The main countries of origin of people seeking asylum in France or the UK are essentially a list of the world’s war zones: Syria, Eritrea, Pakistan, DR Congo. Most of the people in Calais hoping to reach the UK are fleeing conflict, and the poverty that results from conflicts even if they have ended.

So why are people attempting to cross the Channel rather than seeking Asylum in France? Reports have suggested several motivations. Many of the people in Calais have family already in the UK. Living where they have family networks and support obviously makes more sense. Many people speak English, but not French. So they hope their chances of finding work and settling in will be better in the UK.

The primary ‘push’ factor for most of the people in Calais has been conflict and its aftermath. The ‘pull’ factor from France to the UK seems to be family connections and the prospect of work, due to speaking English. Climate change, or climate-related disasters are not among the primary forces creating this human movement.

But could climate change have played a role in creating some of the conflicts and poverty they are fleeing?

Possibly. But the evidence here is contested and controversial. There is some evidence linking climate change to drought in Syria and then to to the initial uprising against Assad. (Do read our analysis of this research). While drought might have been among the early causes of the conflict, it is primarily political factors that turned the uprising into an extended civil war. The primary force driving people out of Eritrea is human rights violations – often the requirement to perform indefinite military service in slave-like conditions. However, Eritrea has also been badly affected the recurring droughts across the Horn of Africa. It is possible that poverty brought about by drought could be amongst the motivations of some Eritrean refugees.

Both these example show that people are primarily moving for political and economic reasons. Often a mix of conflict and poverty. Climate change impacts might have had a role in creating the conflict of poverty. But the main forces creating and shaping patterns of violence and human rights violations remain political.

Climate change and the Calais migration crisis - is there a connection?

Image: Jey OH photographie from Flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Could a hotter planet see a Calais-like situation in the future, in which people are fleeing climate change?

The main claim of the New Scientist article was not necessarily that the current refugees in Calais are fleeing climate change, but that a hotter planet might push more people to make the same journey. Increased climate change impacts will likely create more human movement. However, the movement is likely to follow similar patterns to the existing climate-driven migration. People are more likely to move a short distance, within their own countries, or possibly to neighbouring countries. It is also possible that climate change could make it harder for some people to move. As climate-impacts erode agricultural livelihoods people may reach a point where they don’t have the resources to migrate, and end up trapped where they are.

While a hotter planet might see more people moving, it is less likely that their route will be via Calais to the UK.

Even if this were the case, the dystopian and apocalyptic scenes described in the New Scientist are a result of how cross-border migration is managed. The “dystopian sci-fi” scenes described in the article result from the fact that the UK will not allow people to enter legally. The UK has one of world’s most tightly controlled borders in the world, this makes crossing it extremely difficult and dangerous. When people attempt to cross it, they are forced to resort to extraordinary measure such as attempting to cling onto the underside of trucks as they enter ferry terminals. If the UK allowed people to enter and seek asylum, the “dystopian sci-fi” scenes would not exist.

A hotter planet will likely mean more human movement – perhaps not between France and the UK – but certainly between other places. On a hotter planet, the key to avoiding Calais-like situations will be to allow people to move legally and more easily.

Alex Randall is the project manager of the Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author of a number of the Coalition’s reports, as well as numerous blogs and comment pieces.

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Video: climate change, migration and health

We took part in a panel discussion looking at the connections between climate change migration and health. This is a video of the entire discussion.



Chaired by: Prof. Paul Wilkinson Public & Environmental Health Research Unit, LSHTM

Speakers include: Dr. Ilan Kelman,UCL Institute for Risk and Disaster Reduction;  Prof Hugh Montgomery, director of the UCL Institute for Human Health and Performance, Hugh Grant-Peterkin, Centre for Sustainable Healthcare,  Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb, Green Party

Alex Randall is the project manager of the Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author of a number of the Coalition’s reports, as well as numerous blogs and comment pieces.

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What’s wrong with the climate change ‘risk assessment’?

Climate Change A Risk Assessment aims to help governments assess how much effort should be spent reducing emissions, given the risks a hotter planet could create. The report looks at many of the dire risks a hotter planet will face: crop failure, flooding, sea level rise, water stress. The report then looks at what it calls ‘systemic risks’ that result from these physical impacts.

The report was prepared by Cambridge University’s Centre for Science and Policy and commissioned by the UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office.

The report leans very heavily on the supposed risks created by migration linked to climate change. It presents migration linked to climate change as a disaster with the potential to create war, terrorism and chaos. While the report’s assessment of the physical impacts of climate change is highly credible, its assessment of climate linked migration is problematic.

Migration and climate change
The report sees migration entirely as a risk to receiving countries and areas. Migration linked to climate change is presented as something that could destabilise places that migrants move to. The report argues that the arrival of new climate migrants could lead to armed conflict. This – they claim – would result from new ethnic tensions and conflict over resources. Wars between states might erupt as migrants attempt to cross borders and receiving countries attempt to repel them. The report also claims that climate linked migration could become a new driver of terrorism. And that migrants could cause the spread of disease.

While predicting the future is difficult, and exploring future possibilities is important, it is also important to examine what existing evidence suggests is most likely:

  • Migration is more likely to be internal, rather than between countries. In the face of degraded livelihoods or sudden disasters, people tend to move short distances, usually within their own countries.
  • People may find themselves less able to move. As livelihoods are degraded and people become poorer, migrating becomes more difficult. As the impacts of climate change begin to take affect people may find themselves trapped.
  • Migration linked to climate change may be seasonal, temporary and circular. In the face of climate impacts people may move temporarily during periods of drought and then return when conditions improve.

The idea of sudden, large scale, international migration caused by climate change is not well supported by existing evidence.

It is also important to examine the balance of evidence behind some of the claims about the impacts of migration in the report.

At the moment the connection between climate change and conflict is deeply controversial and highly contested within accademia. There is an emerging consensus that climate impacts may already be having a very limited impact on levels of violence. But, other political forces remain the most important factors in creating conflict. This applies to civil conflict and inter-group violence (two non-government armed forces fighting). There is little evidence that climate change will become a key factor in states deciding to use their armed forces against each other. Importantly, there is no evidence that migration and displacement linked to climate change is a driver of new violence.

There is little evidence that migrants and refugees themselves choose to take up arms and fight in their new locations. In fact, it is far more likely that they will be victims of violence while moving between locations. Similarly unaccompanied migrant minors are highly vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. The real risk is to migrants and refugees themselves, rather than migrants creating security risks in the places they move to.

The report also ignores the key issue of migration as adaptation. Rather than seeing migrants as a security threat, this concept sees migration as a way for some of the most vulnerable people to adapt. In the face of climate change impacts, many people may wish to move. The solution is to seek to facilitate this. By allowing people to migrate, many people will chose to leave high-risk areas. By giving people this option they may migrate and seek work before conditions at home become intolerable and they are forced to move in desperation.

When migration does create problems it is often because people are forced to move illegally. Migrants and refugees are more likely to die or face injury if their journeys have been carried out in secrecy. They are also more likely to become victims of abuse and trafficking if they are undocumented. Migrants are far less likely to seek medial attention, or report crimes against them if they are  undocumented.

The risks that migrants face can be mitigated by creating new legal migration routes. In the face of climate change impacts these new migration options become increasingly important. However this is missing from the report’s Risk Reduction chapter.

To evidence the claims the report frequently references the UK Government’s report Migration and Global Environmental Change, commonly called The Foresight Report. Foresight does make a strong case connecting climate change and migration. However it never makes the case for climate linked migration being catastrophic or massive. In fact, it argues that determining the number of “climate migrants” is actually impossible given the multiple forces creating human movement. Foresight also popularised the idea of climate immobility, the idea that people might become trapped and unable to move due to climate impacts. Further, it also made a strong case for using migration as a form of climate adaptation. It never argued that migration is a security problem, or a driver of conflict and terrorism. In fact it went to great lengths to make the case against these connections.

Interestingly, at no point in their discussion of migration and displacement does the report reference the Fifth Assessment report of the IPCC. The Human Security chapter of Working Group II represents a recent and very comprehensive review of much of the evidence linking migration and climate change. The assessment does point to important connections between climate change and migration. However, it also points out the difficulty of estimating numbers of potential migrants, and does not point to a powerful connection between climate, migration and armed violence.

Climate Change A Risk Assessment has presented a group of highly vulnerable people as a security threat, when in fact there is little evidence for this. In doing so, it has stoked existing fears and prejudices about migrants and refugees. The report has performed a useful task in helping governments see climate change in terms of risk – however adding migrants to a list of other catastrophic risks is both inaccurate and unhelpful.

Alex Randall is the project manager of the Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author of a number of the Coalition’s reports, as well as numerous blogs and comment pieces.

Ice - climate change, migration and displacement

Image and thumbnail image: Pierre Klemas. Released under Creative Commons licence (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0). From Flickr.

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