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Climate Induced Migration: Don’t Overreact

March 5, 2010

On Monday, I attended an event at the Center for American Progress (CAP) on the global implications of climate induced migration. For the past several months, I have been researching the intersection between climate change and preventing deadly conflict, an interdisciplinary area in its infancy. The panel at this event included a representative from the United States Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Conflict Management and Mitigation (CMM) office, an Oxfam representative, and a migration specialist. I was impressed at the diversity of perspectives represented and that finally many of these issues (conflict prevention, humanitarian assistance, and migration) are being brought together into one conversation with a collaborative goal of presenting a nuanced and perceptive picture of how climate change will affect social dynamics across the globe.

People working to mitigate climate change and migration experts have long been skeptical of one another. Migration scholars resent that many environmental groups have used a dramatized threat of “climate migration” to drum up support for their cause, while inadvertently demonizing migrants. Conversely, environmental groups often feel that migration studies discount the effects of climate and environmental change and the degree to which one can attribute much of the migration in the past several decades (at least partially) to climate change. Thankfully, some of this animosity seems to be thawing as people realize that all these issues are interconnected and action is dependent on understanding how.

Susan Martin, the climate specialist, mentioned four ways that climate change and migration interact:

1. Desertification and increasingly long drought seasons push people out of their homelands (a relatively slow migratory pattern).
2. Rising sea levels will force people to relocate (slow).
3. More frequent and intense natural disasters induce displacement and people often never return to their original homes (this results in quick, mass migration– we are seeing more of it already).
4. Competition over resources leads to conflicts and displacement (this could be large scale, and is the scariest option in many ways).

She also provided a lot of hope, though. She mentioned that remittances from migrants back to their home countries far outweigh any government or foreign commitments and that if that resource stream could be tied to adaptation projects it would be a tremendous advantage. The entire panel also reiterated that often the very necessity of sharing resources means that there is increased cooperation about things like water rights. Cooperating on environmental issues can then begin to break down other barriers, such as ethnic, religious or political differences. Perhaps the very direness of the situation will force humanity to become more peaceful and cooperative.

I was also heartened to hear that both Oxfam and USAID are building a consciousness of environmental change into their projects and that everyone is taking this issue seriously. The common wisdom on the connection between climate change and conflict is that a changing climate multiplies other factors that lead to fragile and failing states, such as poverty, weak governance, and economic instability. Therefore it is essential that climate change be part of any conversation happening in the State Department, USAID, and even the military. It also means that FCNL’s climate and peaceful prevention of deadly conflict programs are more closely linked that we often think.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 11, 2010 5:24 pm

    I was glad to have this update! Thank you.

  2. March 18, 2010 4:41 pm

    It is really up to us, how we live each day and the choices we make speak very loudly. The more we cooperate in all matters, the more we create a climate of one-world-ness where we find more in common and fewer differences.

    Exploring Inner Peace helps move each of us in that direction. We then become examples in our communities.

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