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Benjamin Schraven: Human migration under climate change

Updated: Jan 6

Benjamin Schraven, Research Fellow at the German Institute for Development Research (DIE)

Benjamin Schraven is a research fellow in the "Environmental Governance and Sustainable Development Transition" research program at the German Institute for Development Research (DIE), a member of the World Bank's Global Knowledge Partnership for Migration and Development (KNOMAD) (thematic Working Group on "Environmental Change and Migration"), and an associate research Fellow at the Centre for Development Studies at the University of Bonn. He holds a PhD in Development Studies from the Centre for Development Studies/Centre for Development Studies (ZEF) at the University of Bonn. His research interests include migration and development, environmental change and migration, migration governance and adaptation to climate change.

Human migration under climate change

1. Climate change has caused many issues like the rise in sea level and forest degradation etc, and a large number of lives have been severely affected. In the future, where are the place people most likely to migrate on a large scale due to global climate change?

We can clearly identify a number of climate change hotspots where migration due to the adverse effects of global warming is already happening today: parts of Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia (in particular Bangladesh), the Caribbean or the Pacific Island States (just to name a few). We should expect that migration but also forced immobility due to climate change related effects in particular in these world regions will increase in the next years and decades to come. But in the research focusing on the interlinkages between climate change and human mobility, we can also see that people affected by the adverse effects of global warming mainly migrate within their home countries or they go to neighboring countries. It is rather unlikely that regions like Europe, North America or East Asia will experience a massive inflow of “climate refugees” anytime soon.

2. As international organizations play an increasingly important role in global governance issues, what role can international organizations play in climate migration?

Although regional-, national- and sub-national-level actors and institutions are apparently more important when it comes to actually implementing policies, international organizations might play key role of defining policy or legal standards and frameworks concerning migration in the context of climate change. But it is not up to one international organization to do this as migration or human mobility in the context of climate change is cross-cutting issue that is relevant for many organizations dealing with different issues such as migration, environment, climate change, rural development, humanitarian aid or urban development. It is important that a feeling of shared responsibility is created when it comes to “climate migration”. Furthermore, a differentiated approach is necessary (see below).

3. Economic development has brought well-being life to us but also brought ecological costs to some people who deeply suffer from them. How should we take care of those climate migrants in post-coronavirus period?

Migration in the context of climate change has many facets and it is often not easy to determine, which role climate or environmental change plays exactly for a person’s decision to move – even when it is about forced displacement. Accordingly, it is hardly possible to define who exactly a “climate migrant” or a “climate refugee” is. The policy ideal to address human mobility in the context of climate change (and beyond) should be a differentiated one. One the one hand, the goal must be to avoid situations of forced displacement as far as this is possible. On the one hand, it is important to create suitable framework conditions that allow for: a) good socio-economic integration of displaced populations; b) minimization of negative aspects of human mobility (human trafficking, labor exploitation) etc.; and c) maximization of positive aspects of human mobility (e.g. remittances, migrants rights).

4. As some countries are closely threatened by climate migration, they may be affected. In the post-coronavirus period, what roles should these countries play and what actions should they take?

Obviously, these countries could play pioneer roles when it comes to defining differentiated approaches to human mobility in the context of climate change (see above).

Interviewer: Qiu Jiayi

Interview date: May 29, 2021

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