Conferene report - Meeting of the Americas on Climate Change
Date: 20 to 23 September 2015
Seminar: Migration as adaptation to environmental and climate change: Evidence and policy
Date: 13 November 2015
Location: IOM GMDAC, Berlin, Germany
There have been an increasing number of publications on the effects of environmental change on migration in recent years. However, has research captured and reflected the policy needs and interest of countries affected by “environmental migration”?
Migration and displacement were repeatedly mentioned among the greatest security challenges posed by climate change at an international high-level event organized by the French Ministry of Defence on October 14th, 2015 in Paris.
Over the last five decades, the Lower Mekong Basin has been the scene of major human and environmental upheavals, especially in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam where sustained political instability degenerated into major armed conflicts and significant migrations. The Vietnam War, whether official in Vietnam, or secret in Laos, arguably played a decisive role in the extensive deforestation observed from c. 1960 to c. 1980 in the Lower Mekong Basin. Deliberate massive removal of vegetation by bombing and chemical spraying was a military tactic to deny cover and land to opposition forces. In Laos only, from 1953 onward, approximately 1 million people were displaced, successively escaping the war, the communist takeover or following resettlement policies.
The environmental migration discourse has been overtly focused on the impacts of environmental variability on migration patterns. However, the role of migration in the context of adaptation such as financial and social remittances, and the influence of social networks, has received little empirical research attention.
Conceptual and practical difficulties have hampered the ability to create clear normative approaches to climate-induced movement. Scholars and policy-makers have pointed to the multi-causality of migration and the impossibility of pinpointing ‘climate’ as a primary or definitive driver of movement. Debate over whether to classify such movement as economic opportunity or a form of forced displacement requiring the development of protection categories has stalled decision-making.
In low-lying countries of the Pacific, discussions concerning climate change as a trigger for migration have been contentious and fuelled by emotion and varying levels of sensitivity. In a recent discussion of the factors influencing the decision for migration in outer island communities in Tuvalu and Kiribati, Smith (2013: 23) posited: ‘Should they stay or should they go?’