Academic journal article Global Governance

Climate Change, Migration, and Governance

Academic journal article Global Governance

Climate Change, Migration, and Governance

Article excerpt

There is growing recognition that the effects of climate change are likely to lead to more migration, both internally and internationally, in the relatively near future. These climate change-induced migrations are likely to pose new challenges to the international system, ranging from an increase in irregular migration, to strains on existing asylum systems, to protection gaps for certain migrants affected. Yet the legal and normative framework, and institutional roles and responsibilities, relating to climate change-induced migration remain poorly developed. This article provides an overview of the interactions between climate change and migration, outlines the current international response, and considers new approaches to the global governance framework. KEYWORDS: climate change, migration, asylum.


AS EARLY AS 1990, THE INTERGOVERNMENTAL PANEL ON CLIMATE CHANGE (IPCC) warned that significant levels of migration could occur as a result of changing climatic conditions. (1) The concept of environmental migration proved to be a controversial one, largely because of the difficulty in measuring the extent to which environmental factors compel people to move. Since the 1980s, when the term environmental refugees was coined, experts within the environmental and migration fields have differed in their characterization of the phenomenon. Oli Brown puts those concerned with the interconnections in two groups--alarmists and skeptics. (2) The alarmists see the environment as a principal cause of population movements, emphasize the forced nature of the migration (thus, using the term "refugee"), and often project that hundreds of millions of persons will be affected, frequently without differentiating between those who will move short distances to safer ground versus those who will move thousands of miles to new countries. The skeptics, by contrast, raise questions about the models used to generate estimates of those who will be forced to migrate and emphasize that pull factors in destination locations are often more important than push factors at home in determining whether, where, and in what volume people will migrate. Perhaps not surprisingly, some environmentalists have been particularly alarmist, often using the threat of mass migration as a reason that immediate action should be taken to address climate change and other environmental problems. Migration experts, concerned about a potential backlash against migrants and misuse of terms like "refugee," which is carefully defined in international law, have tended to join the camp of the skeptics.

Recognizing the complexity in determining causality, and the broader context in which the environment affects population movements, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) has offered the following broad definition of environmental migrants: "Environmental migrants are persons or groups of persons who, for compelling reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment that adversely affects their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad." (3)

Policymakers have been slow, however, to develop national, regional, or international laws, policies, or organizational responsibilities--that is, a system of governance--to manage environmentally induced migration. This situation derives in part from uncertainties about the actual impacts of the environment, particularly as exacerbated by climate change, on migration. But even where there is a recognition that some form of migration related to environmental change is likely to occur, addressing these movements is hampered by the paucity of policy or institutional responses that are deemed appropriate to these forms of migration.

This article begins with a brief discussion of the potential impact of climate change on migration patterns. I continue with an examination of existing capacities to address these forms of movement, discussing gaps in governance. …

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