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.

Jul 13th 2015 by Anja Lamche

UNU Talks Politics, Costs of Climate Change and Migration in Bonn

In the run up to the Conference of Parties (COP) 21 in Paris, and 6 months after COP 20 in Lima, Peru, the United Nations University (UNU) held another press briefing on climate change and migration in Bonn, Germany. Although the main topic, mobility in the context of climate change, remained the same as in Lima, the focus and extent were broadened to include politics and economic costs.

The panel consisted of Dr. Koko Warner (senior scientist and leader of the environmental migration, social vulnerability and adaptation section at the UNU-EHS in Bonn), and two others from the UNU-EHS in Bonn, Dr. Cosmin Corendea (legal expert on environmental degradation and the adverse effects of climate change), and Andrea Milan (researcher with a special focus on the social impacts of climate change and migration in the context of global environmental change). 

In Lima, speakers stressed adaptive capacities and responsibilities of countries, the connection between migration and conflict, and the use of National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) as a policy tool to prevent conflict related to migration. This time, the importance of developing effective and far-reaching policies was the focus. Cosmin Corendea opened by giving recommendations obtained from the project “PACIFIC. Prejudice And Conflict in Forced-migration Issues”, which was conducted early this year  in Kiribati, Tuvalu, Fiji, and Samoa. These recommendations included the development of migration policies, the strengthening of regional connections in the Pacific, the development of databases, and the recognition of climate change as a permanent and continuous issue in the region.

Meanwhile, Andrea Milan drew on his previously gained experience in the field. The Pacific Climate Change and Migration Project (PCCM) identified three key ideas and priorities for migration policies in the Pacific: Firstly, the creation of options for people to migrate in dignity and to stay. He reminded the audience that climate change is a lot more than just sea level rise but also relates to issues of human development, health, food, and water security. He argued that stronger global collaboration is needed- especially when it comes to student and labor migration, which can generate greater incomes and serve as a risk diversification strategy. Secondly, he stressed the need for more effective and holistic migration policies in order to increase benefits and reduce the risks of migration. Last but not least, Milan also underlined the financial aspect behind all these recommendations. Money should be made available in order to improve educational systems as well as recruitment and placement mechanisms. However, money is not a silver bullet. For example, the need for better relationships between new migrants and diasporas in destination areas is important in order to foster stronger support networks.

Koko Warner’s statement put human mobility and climate change firmly in the context of science, policy, and action. As in Lima before, she outlined the intrinsic links between the movement of people and climate change. Migration in this context can be seen, she emphasized, as an effective adaptation strategy. In order to bring these concepts into action, however, requires that the link between climate policy and human mobility be politically built into a legally-binding international agreement, which will be on the table in Paris later this year. She sees many possible spaces for policy engagement, which can include anything from the preamble over national indices to National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) (which was a key topic in Lima last year).

From my point of view, the Bonn press briefing achieved two important things: It placed the emphasis squarely on political obligations to facilitate migration, with options to successfully migrate, and return, if possible. Thus, it is clearer than ever that incorporating migration into NAPs alone is not sufficient, but farther-reaching and integrated cross-border measures, especially concerning issues of education and labor, have to be addressed.

Additionally, economic costs were explicitly discussed. However, the source and scope of these financial means remained undetermined. Also, the amount of climate migrants could not be estimated, which leaves us with a rather blurred picture of the future human mobility connected to climate change, and attendant costs.

Despite the necessary widening of the discussion to incorporate issues of politics, some questions still remain unanswered. Hopefully, this gap can be filled in Paris this winter.

Image Credits: Julien Harneis under CC BY-SA 2.0; UNU-EHS and again UNU-EHS