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20 April Climate Change and A Shift in Migration Agenda

Migration is an adaptation strategy for communities vulnerable to climate change impacts.

There is growing concern worldwide that climate change will drive largescale human migration across geographies and borders. The actual causes and consequences of migration are complex.
Humans have always migrated. Often their movements were influenced by climatic and environmental factors. Migration out of Africa over 60,000 years ago helped our species “increase greatly on Earth and multiply in it” as some creation myths have put it.
Push and pull factors, including environmental and climatic ones, have possibly influenced this great movement

“Migration is an important social, economic and cultural phenomenon that somehow has been overlooked in the field of human dimensions of environmental change. In an interconnected and mobile world, migration would seem to be an increasingly important response to stress, shock and uncertainty.”

In the face of climate change, migration can be a long-term adaptation or short-term coping strategy. For someone living in the Sundarbans that frequently gets affected by seasonal floods, storms and riverbank erosion, mobility could be a life and death question, or an escape route from poverty.

Research shows people’s response strategies often include internal and external migration. A person affected by a storm surge might evacuate to a cyclone shelter, live on an embankment, make day trips for work in a village where farms are less affected by a recent storm, migrate temporarily to a small town and sell toys, or decide to settle in a big city where he or she finds a job. Migration is increasingly seen as a solution, not a problem.

The changing pattern
Extreme weather events and disasters have led to significant population displacement in the past. Changing frequency and intensity of extreme events and their sudden onset will increase the challenges, risks, and geographical spread of such displacement as recent research shows.

For instance, 2018 floods in Kerala after extreme rains during the monsoon season led to temporary displacement of a million people. That year, about 2.67 million people were displaced due to disasters from across the country. The trend of extreme rain and flood continued in 2019 as well.

Metros such as Mumbai are repeatedly facing floods amid a trend of extreme rain, part of what leading scientists see as the impact of climate change. On the flip side, erratic rain or lack of rain could lead to massive crop failures, food shortages and subsequent migration.

Changes in weather could disrupt nature-based livelihoods such as pastoralism, herding, farming, fishing, hunting and gathering, and subsequently lead to migration.

The way people perceive and respond to such threats to their livelihoods and lifestyles are culturally mediated. They could live locally and adapt, or move to a new place perceived to be better and safer, or take a more calculated approach by sending a family member or two to work elsewhere and rebuild their livelihoods back home with remittances.
Mobility options open up numerous possibilities and innovations. However, from an environmental justice point of view, people who end up on the frontiers of such changes often have negligible carbon footprints. Many of them use just a small wood stove and a couple of oil lamps, walk to work and row their boats.

Trends in Migration

The Fifth Assessment Report (AR5) of the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has shown a few general trends on how climate change influences people’s mobility patterns.

First, there is an increase in urban migration leading to horizontal expansion and sprawl of cities. Since many vulnerable groups do not have enough resources to pay for their migration in the face of disasters and extreme weather, they could get trapped in vulnerable locations.

Scientists say it could be a double whammy for many as urban migrants living in shanties might be exposed to further risks such as floods, heat waves and storm surges in coastal cities. There are also indirect threats that the urban poor faces. This includes food insecurity due to a spike in food prices and cost of accommodations.

Second, extreme weather events could cause sudden spurts of migration—lasting a few days to a few months. In such cases, people tend to return to their places of origin once the event is over and its impacts are mitigated.
Third, Sea level changes have especially been projected to lead to permanent migration.

Need for Action oriented approach

First of all, policies need to be based on evidence. There is ample evidence for certain trends in climatic and environmental changes and their impacts that include changing patterns of human mobility. So policies need to squarely address these.

Second, the operative term in climate change migration is mobility. People move in many directions, back and forth, across time and space. The wise thing is to acknowledge this fact and anticipate, plan and manage mobilities as much as possible

It is migrant labourers who build, run and sustain cities. Yet, they are the ones always get pushed towards the city’s peripheries. Cities need to be migrant-friendly and changing demographic shifts should influence urban planning.

Third, boundary walls are not the solution to climate change-related migration. Instead, bridges work better. Border securitisation in current global, regional and national politics has infiltrated science policy.

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