Connecting the spots

Notes on migration and environment from a geographical perspective

Alex Randall

Alex Randall

Alex Randall coordinates the UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition. He is author of several reports on migration and climate change. He writes regularly on migration, displacement, and climate change for a number of outlets.

Dec 9th 2014 by Alex Randall

Should Refugee and Migration NGOs Work on Climate Change Issues?

Should refugee and migration NGOs be involved in responding to climate change? How can these groups be involved in advocacy on the issue? And what (if anything) should be advocated for? These questions do not have simple answers, but this post attempts to put together a compelling case for coordinated advocacy and campaigning by refugee and migration groups.

Should migration and refugee organizations even be carrying out advocacy on migration linked to climate change?

There is a strong case for refugee and migration rights organizations becoming involved in advocacy around mobility linked to climate change. Over the last decade the arena has been dominated by environmental organizations. These green groups have been very successful at pushing the issue up the agenda. Their approach has been one that focuses on the negative impacts of migration. As environmental organizations their focus has also primarily been on galvanizing support around better environmental and climate policy, rather than better migration policy. There is a need for civil society groups that work with people who move to have a voice in this issue. Policy in this area must be shaped by civil society groups who work with and understand the needs of people who move, and grasp the nuances and controversies of carrying out advocacy on migration and displacement. There is a real need for refugee and migration NGOs to take a lead on advocacy in this area.

What should they be advocating for?

There is a clear difference between awareness and policy change. We cannot create political and policy change only by making people aware of an issue. When it comes to migration linked to climate change, where should advocacy be focused? What should NGOs be trying to change and how should they go about it? There are several promising channels for creating policy change. There is a need for new forms of legal protection that can protect people who move across borders during natural disasters. The Nansen Initiative is currently the key forum for the creation of this protection. However, there is also the possibility of addressing the issue through existing mechanisms such as the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) - where the negotiating text already contains references to migration and displacement. There are also open questions about whether several other international fora could be useful. Could this issue be addressed in the replacement for the Hyogo Framework? Could a Sustainable Development Goal focused on migration and could this help?

Why is advocacy on migration linked to climate change so difficult?

Of course no one pushing for social change has an easy job. But the issue of migration linked to climate change is particularly challenging. Both migration and climate change are deeply controversial topics. The relationship between climate change and migration is also complex. Over the last 10 years research has consistently pointed towards multiple forces - including the environment - interacting to change patterns of mobility. Most evidence suggests the relationship between climate change and migration is not simple, linear, or consistent. Creating compelling advocacy around complex issues can be difficult. Creating engaging stories out of such complexity is also hard. Further, mobilizing and working with affected communities presents a real challenge. Many people who have a climate change dimension to their movement do not necessarily see themselves as having been affected by climate change. Here at the UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition (UKCCMC), we try to address some of these issues through our Moving Stories project.

If you’re interested in learning more about these complex questions, the University of Oxford’s COMPAS, IOM, and UKCCMC will be hosting a talk on “Climate change and migration: How are they linked?” on Friday, 12 December 2014 at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue (48 Charles Street, London W1J 5EN). Please RSVP to communications@compas.ox.ac.uk.


Photo credit: DFID/Russell Watkins