Migration as an adaptation strategy to environmental changes: obstacles and opportunities

Francois Gemenne, IDDRI - Sciences Po

Massive population displacements are now regularly forecasted as one of the most dramatic possible consequences of climate change. Recent empirical studies have shown that environmental factors were increasingly important drivers of migration movements, both forced and voluntary. These studies have also highlighted how migration was not necessarily the result of failure of adaptation strategies, but could be one of possible options for populations to cope with the impacts of environmental changes, and global warming in particular. As a result of this, migration has increasingly acknowledged as a possible adaptation strategy in the international climate negotiations. The proposed paper is based on a research conducted in the framework of the EACH-FOR project, a European-funded research project that examined how populations responded to environmental changes in 23 case-studies across the world (www.each-for.eu). In particular, the paper highlights the case-studies of New Orleans after hurricane Katrina and of Tuvalu, a small archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean threatened by sea-level rise. The paper examines the factors that make migration a possible adaptation strategy for populations confronted with environmental changes. Such factors include environmental elements, but also socio-economic conditions, public policies, as well as discourses and representations on migration. The research reflects in particular on two key observations from the EACH-FOR project: the first one is that the most vulnerable populations are often unable to migrate when they face environmental changes; the second observation is that public discourses portraying the migrants as victims of environmental changes hinder their ability to adapt, as it was clearly exemplified in the cases of New Orleans and Tuvalu. Building on these two observations, the paper concludes by making some policy recommendations aiming at restoring to right to move for the most vulnerable.

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Presented in Session 105: Population, mobility and resources