Seminar: "Migration as Adaptation to Environmental and Climate Change"

Irene Leonardelli and Susanne Melde

Seminar: Migration as adaptation to environmental and climate change: Evidence and policy
Date: 13 November 2015
Location: IOM GMDAC, Berlin, Germany

Summary: On the verge of the UN climate change conference in Paris at the end of November 2015, this seminar presented preliminary evidence about human mobility as an adaptation strategy in the 6 pilot countries of the “Migration, Environment and Climate Change: Evidence for Policy” (MECLEP) project as well as the recently published book on the regional dimension of Environmental Change, Adaptation and Migration edited by Hillmann et al.. The seminar fostered an interesting and inspiring discussion on the topic. The initial MECLEP findings, presented by Susanne Melde, outlined that environmental migration is a reality and not a future scenario and could offer certain opportunities for adaptation to environmental and climate change. However, displacement is likely to present obstacle challenges to communities that have to deal with environmental degradation and natural disasters. Thus the poor are paying the highest price as they likely remain ´trapped´ without being able to move in areas affected by environmental degradation or are at the risk of being displaced. Planned relocation can make communities more vulnerable, but also offer some beneficial opportunities such as access to markets, social services and migration. Policy frameworks should foster circular migration as an adaptation strategy, reduce the risks for potential displacement and adequately plan relocation.

An important point unfolded by the book Environmental Change, Adaptation and Migration and stressed in the presentation by Felicitas Hillmann and Harald Sterly was the need to study slow-onset environmental events, such as sea-level rise. The complexity of the relationship between climate change and migration can only be disentangled with an analytical perspective that is multidimensional, multiscale and based on various methods of data collection. In this respect, Johannes Herbeck underlined the importance of looking at ´regions´ at sub-state level as a meso level that reflects both local and global dynamics. Han Entzinger, in line with the findings of the Environmental Change and Forced Migration (EACH-FOR) project, suggested that mobility can be a positive form of adaptation when it is planned in a smart and comprehensive way: planned relocation needs to go along with the creation of services and facilities as well as taking into account not only economic factors but also cultural, social and historical aspects that might relate to the capacity and the will of a community to move. Relocation needs to be linked to sustainable development planning at the national, regional and local level.