An im/mobilities perspective to the climate change-migration nexus

The issue of climate change-induced or environmental migration is receiving increased attention in policy circles as our awareness of the effects of climate change grows. Indeed, individual outmigration and community relocation are increasingly recognized as important strategies of adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change. However, policies on climate migration are often based on simplistic assumptions of cause (climate change) and result (outmigration). This is at odds with a growing body of empirical research, which highlights both the situation-dependency and complexities surrounding migration in the context of a changing climate, as well as the fragmentation of movements and the significance of non-migration in this context.

This discrepancy between the lived realities of affected communities and top-down governance is problematic, as it might result in protection gaps for affected communities or in the design of policies that do not meet their needs. For example, with current political debates on the topic characterized by ‘catastrophe’ as much as ‘urgency’, policy designs focusing on the relocation of communities or the migration of individuals/households as a form of climate change adaptation might become prioritized, thereby advertently or inadvertently silencing debates and concerns about other interrelated, often long-established dynamics such as rural poverty and outmigration, unequal access to water and safe building ground.

In this research, I aim to deconstruct  the notion of ‘migration as adaptation to climate change’ as a policy mechanism, and to instead propose a broader understanding of the patterns of mobilities and immobilities which individuals and households engage in under a changing climate as a starting point for adequate policy development in this field. For this, I will study how im/mobility patterns assumed in governance strategies correspond to the actual im/mobility patterns of local people, how local people employ the discourses of climate change and climate change adaptation to talk about these, and how this corresponds to how these are interpreted and employed by policy makers, consultants and implementing institutions.