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Understanding Climate Change induced Migration

January 6, 2016

At COP21, I attended a side event on the importance of social science research on climate induced migration. Having had a vague understanding of it prior to that, I learnt alot from the speakers and it sparked an interest inside me to know more about this area. This post will briefly highlight some areas of climate change induced migration.

Natural disasters alone have caused about 19.3 million people worldwide to be displaced from their homes in 2014 and 90% of it are weather-related events. The extreme weather- intense rains, typhoons and climate variability (affecting agriculture) have forced people to move elsewhere, mostly within their own countries, with some, though rarely, crossing international borders. There is a multi-causal relationship explaining climate induced migration; while there is a connection between the movement of people and natural disasters, climate change is one of the several factors causing it, rather than it being a direct cause.

Migration as a form of Adaptation

The term ‘migration’ has been viewed as a negative phenomenon, with deep historical and colonial ties, and caused as a reactionary response after a disaster.

The two main responses to climate change are mitigation and adaptation. Traditional forms of adaptation are ‘hard’ measures like building defences to protect against sea-level rise and developing drought-resistant crops.


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With displacement occurring due to natural disasters and environmental related factors, climate change could increase the frequency and need for migration. Thus scholars feel that it is important to recognise migration as a form of adaptation strategy.

The issue with migration

Climate Change Image

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The term ‘refugee’ is used for people forced to leave their homes because of war, persecution or other violence. A person seeking refuge from an environmental disaster cannot apply for the refugee status and lacks protection under the U.N. High Convention for Refugees.

Migration is a complicated issue as it also involves border politics and arouses patriotic and xenophobic feelings.


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In October 2015, the poor and developing nations known as the Group of 77 and China submitted a proposal for the Paris talks to deliver a plan for climate migrants. However, industrialised countries are wary about talks of migration or having to compensate those affected by climate change.

‘Displacement’ in the Paris Agreement

Before Paris, there was no mention of displacement or migration linked to climate change. Now, there is an agreement for countries to address displacement linked to climate change impacts.

The outcome to the Paris negotiations creates a “task force” whose job will be to “develop recommendations for integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change”

Though not as ambitious as some would have hoped, it is a start to a process that would address these climate change induced migration.


  1. “Migration as adaptation: exploring mobility as a coping strategy for climate change” report; Kayly Ober;




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