Science for Impact @ Climate Migration research

Dr. Ingrid Boas' research on climate change and human mobility has had societal impact in two of our focus areas.

The two focus areas are Climate and Mobilities. Below you can read how Dr. Boas' ongoing research contributes to solving an emerging societal challenge.

What is the problem?

Climate change - through the impacts of sea-level rise, storms and droughts - threatens to put millions of people at risk of losing their homes and may force people to migrate to saver places, either temporarily or permanently. Between 2008 and 2014, more than 25 million people per year were uprooted because of rapid-onset disasters such as floods and storms (IDMC 2015). Climate change is expected to make this worse. Communities affected by climate-related disasters are unlikely to move far distances across borders; usually affected people migrate to nearby villages or cities where they have family connections.

It is important to note that climate change and natural disasters alone do not cause migration. It intersects with other socio-economic factors, such as people’s resources to move, adaptive capacities, governmental support, etc. It may therefore also very well be that those with insufficient resources to move actually do not have the means to go to safety in case a disaster hits and are forced to stay behind (Foresight 2011).

Those most vulnerable to climate change are communities in the Global South. Particularly marginalized communities in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Small Island States are at high risk of climate impacts such as sea-level rise or drought, whilst their adaptive capacity is low.

Action in this area is essential to ensure the resilience and protection of these communities.

What did we do?

Dr. Boas has done in-depth research about the governance of climate migration, and she has actively participated in a number of events to advice policy development in that domain. The following two events were central:

The Peninsula Principles on Climate Displacement Within States

Dr. Boas has helped to review and finalize the Peninsula Principles on Climate Displacement Within States led by the NGO Displacement Solutions. These Principles offer a guiding framework to protect and enhance the resilience of those groups and individuals displaced as a result of climate change and climate-related disasters. To endorse these Principles amongst state governments, Dr. Boas has also given a speech on the topic – also aimed to endorse these Principles – at the UN Human Rights council.

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European Union

Given the current refugee crisis, the interest of the EU in the subject of climate migration is also rising. In February 2016, Dr. Ingrid Boas was invited to speak at the international conference on ‘Understanding and tackling the migration challenge: the role of research’, organized by the European Commission. She offered a critical reflection on the connections between climate change, migration and the conflict on Syria. These linkages are often simplified and misunderstood, and thus risk misinforming policy-making. For details, find her speech on the European Commission website. The PowerPoint slides are available here.

Africa Day

On 5 November 2016, Dr. Ingrid Boas spoke on the issue of climate change and migration at the Africa Day held at the Royal Tropical Institute in Amsterdam. The audience included students, teachers, theatre makers, and many others interested in the subject. Many people in the audience assumed that climate change is already a key factor in causing the current flow of refugees and migrations coming to Europe. Dr. Ingrid Boas explained that people mostly affected by climate change are marginalized communities who do not have the means and connections to move that far away. Usually they try to move back after the disaster or move to nearby cities to start an alternative livelihood. When people move to Europe usually other incentives, such as political safety or economic opportunities, have a larger role to play.

What happened and who did we influence?

The Peninsula Principles on Climate Displacement Within States

The Peninsula Principles have actively been promoted in the UN and around the world.  They are being applied as we speak. Since 2014, Displacement Solutions in collaboration with the Government of Panama and affected indigenous communities, use the Peninsula Principles as a guiding framework for the planned relocation of island communities to the mainland in the Gunayala region in Panama. The islands in the Gunayala region are threatened by extreme weather events and rising sea-levels.

Panama is amongst the first countries where the Peninsula Principles on Climate Displacement within States are implemented. But Panama is not alone in that regard. More states have showed an interest in these Principles and have requested assistance to address climate displacement. Displacement Solutions is therefore also pursuing collaboration with a number of other states, including Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea.

In the context of Ingrid’s new VENI research project ‘environmentally-related migration in the digital age’, she is also collaborating with the NGO YPSA (Young Power in Social Action) who are applying the Peninsula Principles in participatory relocation and rehabilitation projects of communities affected by cyclones and river erosion in Bangladesh.

European Union

The speech at the EU was meant to raise awareness amongst fellow researchers and EU officials of the complex linkages between climate change, migration and conflict. A key message was that more attention in governance solutions needs to be given to the multi-causal nature of migration. Governance mechanisms focused only on protection those migrating or displaced by either conflict, poverty or climate change miss the fact that these issues often relate and that exclusionary policies focused on particularly narrowly defined groups leave many unprotected. More action needs to be done however on the part of researchers, including via the work of Ingrid, to provide further insight and guidance on these issues.

Africa Day

As the audience did not include the typical academic crowd, it led to some interesting follow-ups. The most interesting one is the agreement to assist a Dutch theatre group which is going to Mali to set-up a theatre project focussed on climate change. They intent to raise awareness about climate change and to engage with the local communities about best-practices to secure their livelihoods. Dr. Ingrid Boas will assist the theatre group by providing them with scientific knowledge on climate change.

Want to read more?

Dr. Ingrid Boas' Veni project, starting date Oktober 2016:

Boas, I. (2015) Climate migration and security. Securitisation as a strategy in climate change politics. New York: Routledge.

Mayer, B., I. Boas, J. Ewing, A. Baillait, and U.K. Das (2013) Governing Environmentally-Related Migration in
Bangladesh: Responsibilities, Security and the Causality Problem, Asian and Pacific Migration Journal, 22(2): 177-198.

Biermann, F. and I. Boas (2010) Preparing for a Warmer World: Towards a Global Governance System to Protect Climate Refugees, Global Environmental Politics, 10(1): 60-88.

Boas, I. and D. Rothe (2016) From conflict to resilience? Explaining recent changes in climate security discourse and practice, Environmental Politics, 25(4): 613-632.

Boas, I. (2014) Where is the South in security discourse on climate change? An analysis of India, Critical Studies on Security, 2(2): 148-161​

Related dossier

Symposium on migration, mobilities, and environmental change