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?’
There has been no shortage of meetings debating the potential impacts of accelerated environmental degradation that is linked with global warming. In the Pacific region alone there have been major meetings addressing climate-change related issues over the past three months in New Zealand (Pacific Parliamentarian Forum), Australia (The Refugee Council of Australia), Cook Islands (Nansen Initiative), Solomon Islands (Pacific Council of Churches), and Kiribati (the President’s public consultation).
It is becoming increasingly clear that reducing greenhouse gas emissions through mitigation is not going to take place at the pace that is required to keep average global temperatures below 2oC. The World Bank, the International Energy Agency and other organisations in their recent studies are beginning an effort to understand the kind of world we can expect to live in which perhaps may be 3, 4 or even 6oC warmer than the pre-industrial world.
There is a scientific consensus that few places in the world will experience the range of effects and the severity of the impacts of Climate Change in Asia and the Pacific.
At the “First, Do No Harm: Avoiding Maladaptation to Climate Change” conference at the Rockfeller Foundation Center in Bellagio, Italy, I, along with other delegates from different countries, were forced to reflect how environmental induced migration is linked to the broader debates of adaptation and development.