Connecting the spots

Notes on migration and environment from a geographical perspective

Anja Lamche

Anja Lamche

Anja Lamche is a Master Student at the Department of Geography at the University in Bonn. During her time as an undergraduate student in Bonn and Southampton, UK, she was especially interested in subjects concerning changed environmental circumstances and human responses. Her main regional interest could well be said to be Southeast-Asia, especially Thailand where she also recently conducted an Internship in a large NGO. However, she is curious about most parts of the world and remains especially interested in human-nature relations of all kinds which also reflect her broad educational background which is among the trademarks of her home institute.

Jan 12th 2015 by Anja Lamche

UNU, IOM, and UNHCR: Human mobility should be seen as chance and choice

The United Nations University (UNU) held a press briefing at the Conference of the Parties (COP) 20 in Lima, Peru, which focused on human mobility in the context of climate change. By assessing the adaptive capacities and responsibilities of countries, Dr. Koko Warner (Section Head at the UNU in Bonn, Germany), Diego Beltrand (Regional Director for South America at the IOM), and Marine Franck (Climate Change Officer at the UNHCR), spread hope that the issue of human mobility in the context of climate change does not necessarily need to lead to increased conflict if planned migration is incorporated into NAPs (National Adaptation Plans) and implemented responsibly. However, they also stressed that climate-related migration is already creating conflicts and if nothing is done, this most likely will increase even further.

All three speakers put migration into the context of climate change, revealing its importance through numbers that speak for themselves: Beltrand noted that 22 million people were displaced by disasters in 2013, and Warner warned that there are four times as many refugees due to climate stressors than to conflict. Whilst Warner emphasized and illustrated the reasons for climate-induced movement (namely, the threat to physical safety and threat to sources of income), Beltrand drew attention to the potential of migration as a strategy for adaptive capacity (e.g. through remittances). Meanwhile, Franck highlighted the question of safety for individuals which are displaced due to climate change. She noted that these individuals are not protected by any international institutions, but are rather subject to nation-states, which only have the obligation to care for its citizens within its borders. She also stressed the gender side of migration, explaining how women and children are significantly less likely to migrate, being left behind, representing the majority of „trapped populations".

The shared message is clear: There is the inevitable need for planned and guided migration”

The shared message is clear: There is the inevitable need for planned and guided migration. As such, migration must be made one option amongst others, a last resort in the face of climate change, made possible for those who want to leave. Migration is not only an outcome of conflict (e.g. over declining resources), but can also be a source of conflicts. Therefore, host countries must welcome migrants in order to facilitate peace and opportunities.

The translation of climate change concepts into action can, said Warner, be achieved through the establishment of NAPs. NAPs are according to the panel, the key to secure safety, dignity and opportunities for the many who are on the frontline of climate change.

Some good examples are Colombia or the Kiribati Islands (see photos). It is those examples which should inspire us and give us hope. We are reminded to take action now as Frank said, „the sooner the relocation plans are prepared, the better the human rights will be observed."

Now is the time to rethink migration as a positive choice and chance”


Photos: In Kiribati, a nation on low laying atolls in the Central Pacific, rising sea levels threatening the population.

Credit: Lorrie Graham/AusAID under CC BY 2.0 and Rafael Ávila Coya, under CC BY-SA 2.0