Is climate-driven migration a threat to security? An expert discussion

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An increasingly unpredictable climate is making extreme weather events such as floods, storms, and droughts increasingly common. Disasters like these not only degrade our natural world but also impact the lives of many vulnerable people and communities around the globe. In recent years, many communities have been forced to adapt to these circumstances. In some cases, this means relocating from their homes. The political conversation around migration is often viewed through the lens of national security, but what’s become clearer in recent years is how important human mobility is for dealing with a changing climate. How do we reconcile these two narratives, and is it time that we look again at how we view migration?  

In our first webinar exploring climate security, we looked at whether climate-induced migration really is a threat to national and international security. We welcomed a cross-sectoral set of panellists spanning research, programming, and policy . 

  • Maureen Achieng, Chief of Mission to Ethiopia and Representative to the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA) at the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) 
  • Bina Desai, Head of Programmes at Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre  
  • Alan de Brauw, Senior Research Fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI)  
  • Alan Nicol, Director Strategic Program on Water, Growth and Inclusion at the International Water Management Institute (IMWI) 

In a hurry? Check out our quick two-minute summary video of the webinar discussion here: 

The effects of climate change and variability and environmental degradation on human societies across the globe are becoming increasingly apparent, prompting many to adapt to these changes by migrating from their homes. What became clear throughout our discussion is that people migrate for complex reasons, and often the causes and consequences of these movements are murky and interwoven. This is particularly true when it comes to the relationship between climate, migration and displacement, and the potential for tension and violence. Our discussion aimed to unpack some of these relationships and reflect on the impact and consequences of climate change on human migration. 

Our discussion brought forward three clear priorities. Together, they lay out a framework for policymakers, which we’ve summarised here.  

1) Reframe migration through the lens of development  

Sub-national, national and regional bodies play a key role in managing human mobility in an integrated and sustainable way. Their capacity to do is critical in responding to the climate challenge.  

Maureen Achieng, Chief of Mission to Ethiopia and Representative to the African Union and UNECA at IOM, recognised how regional bodies such as the African Union (AU) and most recently the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) have been working to break down problematic migration narratives. Rather than viewing it solely through the prism of security and as an inevitable precursor to conflict, they’ve begun to frame human mobility as a way people naturally adapt in the face of climate stresses and eroded livelihoods. She noted efforts within Africa to frame migration through a developmental lens and move towards greater integration, with a stronger emphasis on cross-border resource sharing. Two particularly important and concrete examples of such efforts are the Free Movement Protocol (2018) and the Africa Continental Free Trade Area (2018), both of which serve to facilitate greater cross-country integration and provide those who need to move for survival with the opportunity to so safely and securely.  

2) Generate local evidence on migration and displacement processes 

Bina Desai, Head of Programming at the IDMC, identified three main challenges with producing, collecting, and using data.  

Firstly, we need to increase the volume and coverage of data so that it includes not just migratory flows from disaster-induced displacement, but also those related to slow-onset degradation. Secondly, we need to collect data weeks, months and even years after an event to examine how individuals, households and communities cope and develop. Our understanding is currently stunted because there’s no way of creating a long-term picture that shows how migrants are affected. Finally, even within attempts to collect data, there’s a lack of coherence, with each actor using their own categorisations, questions and data storage procedures. This makes it difficult to connect different data sets, even within one specific location. 

3) Take advantage of and use existing mobility legislation and protocols  

Research conducted by CGIAR can help us better understand how climate-induced displacement occurs, particularly in the context of slow-onset climatic processes.  

Alan de Brauw, Senior Research Fellow at IFPRI, noted how CGIAR science and research has the potential to inform several climate and security-sensitive tools. Doing so, he said, will help build resilience to climate change and potential climate security risks in fragile areas. This includes developing weather-index based insurance, food- and cash-transfer programmes, as well as climate-smart village approaches, that help build adaptive capacity to climate shocks and therefore reducing the risk of involuntary displacement.  

Several panellists recognised that while regional and international bodies are beginning to recognise the significance of migration as an adaptation strategy in the face of climate pressures, putting into place these commitments at the national and sub-national level remained a challenge. Alan Nicol, Director of the Strategic Program on Water, Growth, and Inclusion at IMWI, highlighted the need to inform and deliver climate security policies at the local, national, and international levels. Research into developing context-appropriate early warning systems risk monitoring signs could help create a more proactive migration policy regime.  

 

CGIAR FOCUS group on Climate Security explores how climate change impacts food systems and how this is related to conflict. We believe strong land, food, and water systems help build sustainable and climate resilient peace. We deploy inter-disciplinary research methods and build strong partnerships with leading thought leaders who want to leverage climate adaptation activities for the purposes of peace and security.   

By conducting systemic analysis on the complex links between climate, migration and displacement, and peace and security, we hope to untangle and map out how each is related and linked. Doing so, we believe, is key to generate a localised evidence base and better inform context-appropriate interventions to prevent conflict.  

 

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