Linking Climate Change and Forced Migration - Refugee Council
May 9, 2008

Linking Climate Change and Forced Migration

By Helen, International Protection Policy Team

Climate change and migration are two of the most important challenges of our day. Yet, while the links between the two are controversial, they are not well understood. Climate change will almost certainly lead to widespread human displacement, but the scale, nature and impact of such forced migration remains unclear.

As my role is to develop the Refugee Council’s policies on international protection, I was curious to attend a recent high-level conference that looked specifically at climate change and forced migration and find out more about what it might mean for our work.

The conference attracted some big names: Lord Nicholas Stern who led the Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change, Environment Secretary Hilary Benn MP, and Dr Rajendra K Pachauri, Chairman of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). 

Mohamed Adow, Director of Northern Aid in Kenya quickly brought the subject to light explaining that the phrase ‘pastoralist drop-out’ has been coined to describe the thousands who are forced to move as a result of severe drought and floods.

Hilary Benn recounted asking a woman in Bangladesh who had experienced flooding “How many times have you moved?”. She replied “35”! Climate change as an issue of social justice was highlighted where poorer countries are more affected and less equipped to deal with the consequences. As Benn cited, the average Somali emits sixteen thousand times less carbon than the average US citizen.

Bringing together the worlds of climate change and forced migration was a useful step in the right direction as our spheres of work will inevitably overlap more in the future. 

Evidently prevention and research were recommended by all. The complexity of the interlinking factors that cause migration – one of those being climate change – was acknowledged as well as the need to see ‘anticipatory migration’ as a rational adaptation strategy to climate change.

So what did the renowned Lord Stern recommend as the way forward?  He explained that as the son of a former asylum seeker, not passing laws that breached human rights would be a good start!