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Climate Change, Migration and Security Climate change not only disrupts ecosystems; it also poses threats to the livelihoods and survival of people worldwide.

Climate induced Migration: A Research Challenge

Despite increased attention from both scholars and practitioners, our knowledge on the nexus between climate change and migration is still limited and no shared definition of the phenomenon has been officially agreed, so that several expressions co-exist in the literature (“climate-induced migration”; “environmental migration”; “Migration as an adaptation strategy”). Therefore, a certain level of “conceptual fuzziness” (Castles 2002) in the very definition of the issue at stake hampers efforts towards effective policy making and governance. It is clear that not all countries or societies are equally exposed to climate and environmental change nor are they similarly capable to cope with environmental stressors. Hence, anticipating the vulnerability to climate change of particular socio-ecological systems proves crucial for taking adequate and timely actions. Such actions can be undertaken only through efficient governance structures, and by supporting social transformation processes enabling states and populations to react to vulnerable situations.

The first and paramount conceptual issue to be addressed pertains how to understand the relation between adaptation to climatic and environmental change and migration. Initially, most of the attention has been drawn to migration as a failure to adapt, as a reactive ex post form of adaptation to be adopted when any other possibility of in situ adaptation has failed (e. g. in case of big scale natural disasters or largely irreversible climate change effects - such as sea-level rise - threatening the very existence of communities). In this case, migration is a forced outcome caused by a clearly defined environmental or climatic driver and has significant overlapping with the notion of displacement.

© Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)

© Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC)

 Enlargement Disaster-induced displacement worldwide 2013

Increasing evidence has contributed to the introduction of a more encompassing understanding of the mobility outcome of climatic and environmental change. Many case studies have shown that migration as an adaptation strategy, especially in the Global South, is and can be a proactive ex ante livelihood diversification strategy, that improve the resilience of affected communities at several levels (Foresight 2011; Asian Development Bank 2012; Warner & Afifi 2014). Hence, the migration and climate nexus has been increasingly re-conceptualised within an “adaptation continuum” (Bardsley & Hugo 2010) spanning from forced migration and displacement to the complex outcomes and interactions of several forms and scales of mobility in response to environmental and climatic change, that are a less clear-cut, yet prevailing, form of adaptation and present a largely untapped potential in terms of possible actions and opportunities.

In the present dossier the nexus between climate change and migration shall be understood as designating a "problem field", i.e. “an area in which the need for knowledge related to empirical and practice-oriented questions arises within society due to an uncertain knowledge base and diffuse as well as controversial perceptions of problems (Hirsch Hadorn et al. 2008).

The ‘uncertain knowledge base’ is largely due to the present focus (and difficulty) in isolating the ‘environmental’ - let alone the ‘climate change’- driver from other determinants for migration. Whereas isolating an environmental driver seems reasonably possible at the ‘displacement’ side of the adaptation continuum, i.e. in ‘forced migration’ circumstances, disentangling environmental determinants from other causes of migration is an extremely challenging task. Our ability to model and forecast mobility responses in future climate scenarios is also extremely limited and has led to "controversial perceptions of the problem" (Hirsch Hadorn et al. 2008). Contrasting numbers envisaging up to 200 million “climate refugees” by the year 2050 (Myers 1993) and large estimates of people that will be forced to move because of climate change have colonized media headlines, fuelling the prevailing imagery of a future world flooded by ‘climate refugees’ forced to move because of increasingly hostile and resources-scarce environments. The notion of climate refugees has also been criticised from a legal perspective (see Nash in the dossier).

 The Governance of Climate Change-Induced Migration

The fact that the issue of “climate-induced migration” has been articulated and reviewed by different scientific communities (from the disaster reduction risk community to the migration and development and the climate and environmental science scholarship) each one looking at the issue through its specific disciplinary lens, has brought a general lack of holistic and consilient reviews that are paramount for policy making and capacity building. The present dossier aims at gathering different types of knowledge in order to better define the “problem field” of climate change and migration.