Friday, May 27, 2011

Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future

The Economist Reviews Exceptional People: How Migration Shaped Our World and Will Define Our Future by Ian Goldin, Geoffrey Cameron and Meera Balarajan. The book as the Economist point out provides a perspective on costs and benefits of migration. The review titled The future of mobility, observes that the book traces the historicity of human migration as well as the state of modern migration. One of the startling observations on the book made by the reviewer is :
"The authors knock down wild predictions that climate change will create 200m refugees by mid-century. Global warming may cause more frequent floods, but most flood victims go home when the waters recede. The authors cite as evidence the deluges that hit Mozambique in 2000 and America’s Gulf Coast in 2005".
This is contrary to the popular discourse on climate change induced migration. The observation that people return to their homes post disasters is valid. According to IPCC terminologies such sort of adaptation is termed 'seasonal retreat'. However, there are socio -- ecological limits to adaptation that drive people out resulting in permanent retreat. The Guardian Video below captures this dichotomy nicely.

 At this stage, quantitative projections of displaced people/migrants/refugees are not robust enough because of complexities involved in modeling multiple factors that result in migration. We are yet to read the book to completely understand the rationale behind the observations made.  Your views on the book and the issues raised are solicited.

Read the full review The future of mobility 

Climate Change and Migration: Some important journals

Traditionally there have been quite a number of journals exploring issues related to migration, displacement, refugees etc. Last decade has seen a drastic increase in the number journals on climate change. Below we list some important journals exploring the interface between climate change and migration.

Event: Nansen Conference on Climate Change and Displacement in the 21st Century

The conference will primarily  focus on vulnerability, resilience and capacity for adaptation of communities in areas that are prone to disaster due to climate change, the protection of displaced people, and promotion of action to help prevent or manage displacement. The conference also aims to provide up-to-date projections with regard to drivers of displacement such as drought, floods, storms and sea-level rise.

Dates: 6-7 June 2011  
Location: Oslo (Oslo), Norway  

For more details about Nansen Conference contact Kaja Haldorsen or visit the conference website.

Research Questions

Key issues explored through this study can be broadly classified as follows:

Terminology/Definitions and Methodologies
  • Challenges associated with definitions and terminologies
  • Given the persistent lack of data and frequent questions raised on often quoted estimates, what are the factors that constrain the collection of data for climate change induced migration?
  • What are methodological approaches that have been employed so far in the literature; what are the learning’s and new challenges that have emerged?
Conceptualizing Climate Change Migration
  • How climate change is an additional driver for an already existing migration behavior and how it may induce new trends
  • What are the primary and secondary drivers behind the decision to migrate and what are the inter and cross linkages between them
  • What is that threshold that makes migration a considered option; whether it is forced or a voluntary option?
  • How is a migration destination selected and what are the factors that guide these choices
  • What are the specific issues and concerns related to different types of movements in time and space: like permanent, seasonal, internal , trans-boundary etc ?
  • Why do some communities choose migration while some adapt in other ways; what are the push and pull factors; is it seasonal or temporary  or permanent
  • What are the implications for adaptive capacity of source and receiving communities; livelihoods; entitlement to natural, economic and social capital; human security etc? 
Contextualizing Climate Change Migration
  • Physical: understanding the role of geographic and climate attributes in inducing migration.
  • Environmental: Climate change itself does not displace or move people from one place to another; instead it produces environmental effects and exacerbates current vulnerabilities that make it difficult for people to survive where they are. The study will aim to explore this nexus by understanding the impacts of environmental and climate change on migration
  • Social: role of social capital w.r.t kin structure, community networks, local institutions, livelihood opportunities etc. in influencing  the decision to migrate or stay
  • Cultural: understanding the role of cultural factors, lifestyle, identity elements, ethnicity etc.  in the decision to move or stay
  • Economic: how does economic status and climate change impact on livelihoods pre-dispose some groups to migration
  • Political:  What are the different international and political issues; how are the governments, governance structures, legal and institutional frameworks, international bodies like the UNFCCC prepared to address the implications and process of climate change induced migration

Climate Change and Migration: Developing a Future Research Agenda

It has been long recognized that changes in the environment can influence human movement patterns and behavior. Human migration in response to change in environment has been one of the considered strategies of the vulnerable households, to move away from the area of risk[1]. For communities like nomads and pastoralists, seasonal movement is an essential part of their livelihood. However in the last few decades, the international community has slowly begun to recognize the linkages and implications of climate change on human mobility, as it is increasingly being anticipated that the impacts of climate change will induce and increase such movements.

The popular literature on climate change migration tends to revolve around themes of environment/climate refugees, forced migration, migration as an adaptation strategy etc. These terms are often used in literature without any agreement on definitions and adequate conceptual explication. Also most of literature tends to ignore that the linkages between climate change and migration are ‘complex and unpredictable’ along with being contextual and geographic in nature. There are a number of estimates on climate change migration which implicitly assume that there is a direct link between climate change and migration. However, they may just be an indicative of the number of people who are likely to be at risk from adverse impacts of climate change rather, than those who are likely to migrate[2]. Thus, the literature on explicit linkages between climate change and migration is very limited and supported with very little reliable evidence. Also, there are significant gaps in conceptual and contextual understanding of nature of migration and its various dimensions as a whole.

Thus there is huge gap in literature with respect to conceptualizing and contextualizing the relationship between climate change and migration. The first aspect refers to the knowledge gaps and the need to understand and detail out conceptual issues associated with climate and migration such as terminology/definitions, linkages, drivers, thresholds, implications, data requirements, methodological challenges and other complexities associated. The second aspect contextualizing refers to, understanding climate change and migration debate not in isolation but holistically. It refers to the nexus of migration, climate change, environment, social development, along with governance and policy perspectives at different scales ranging from international to local. Addressing these, would give the much needed impetus to address the challenges associated with this issue.

[1] Mc Leman, R. A. & Smith. B.,2006. Migration as an adaptation to climate change, Climate Change, 76. Pp. 31-53
[2] Tacoli, C. 2009. Crisis or Adaptation? Migration and Climate Change in context of High Mobility. Prepared for Expert group Meeting on Population Dynamics and Climate Change, UNFPA and IIED. 24-25 June 2008