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Discussions at COP21 side event on climate change and migration

150 people attended the side event on climate migration at the UN climate summit in Paris on December 1st, that visiting professor Angela Oels organised. Lund University was hosting the side event in collaboration with Lancaster and Hamburg University. Watch a video from the event here.
Side event climate migration COP21
Side-event on climate migration at COP21. Photo: Dr. Janpeter Schilling

The panel had one clear message: There is no simple link between climate change and migration. Therefore, it is better to speak of a potential relationship between climate and migration and not of a causation. Many of the ways in which the issue has been articulated are highly problematic. We should neither fear millions of climate refugees, nor is refugee status the answer to the problem. Even more problematic is the idea, that migration is simply a “rational strategy of adaptation”. This discourse naturalizes the losses of livelihoods as inevitable and ignores that a lot of the projected migration could still be prevented.

There was half an hour of open discussion with the audience, in which a number of really interesting questions were raised. A person in the audience from Bangladesh highlighted that migration in his country happens where adaptation failed. So he could not agree that migration should be counted as adaptation.

People wanted to know what the panel thought about claims that all Syrians were climate refugees and the panel responded that they were very skeptical about such claims. The panel concluded that climate change and migration is not an issue that the UNFCCC should be expected to “manage”. Instead, a lot more fundamental questions need to be discussed like “What kind of migration do we want in the future?”. There should be less sorting between “good” and “bad” refugees, they are all humans in the end. Andrew Baldwin emphasized that future research needs to make sure it is not only policy relevant but most of all politically relevant.

Text: Angela Oels, visiting professor at the Lund University Centre for Sustainability Studies and in Political Science

Watch a video from the side-event by IISD reporting services

The Importance of Social Science Research for Understanding Climate Change Induced Migration from IISD Reporting Services / ENB+ on Vimeo.

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