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Globalization as a Humanitarian Challenge 4: »Climate change is a future mechanism for migration and displacement«

15.12.2017 21,5 million people are forcibly displaced by climate and environmental events every year, estimates the UNHCR [1]. The Centre’s Fellow, Dr Stephen Adaawen, answers the most pressing questions in an interview with the Centre on the nexus between climate change and migration.

 

Juliana Fischer: Will Global Warming become a central mechanism for migration and displacement? 

Dr Stephen Adaawen: ‘Yes, of course! Global warming has already set in motion changes in global climate and environmental conditions. These observed changes have acted in aggravating extreme climatic events, environmental deterioration and natural disasters. In particular, people in the Global South tend to experience the impacts of global warming and the associated climatic changes on their livelihoods and in terms of displacement. This is in view of the fact that their livelihoods are highly dependent on climate. As such livelihoods tend to be vulnerable towards climatic or environmental changes. The key factors that influence displacement and the decision to move due to climatic changes are adaptation capacities and resilience. If people are resilient or can adequately adapt to climatic events, they won’t be displaced by them.'

Juliana Fischer: What needs to be done in terms of development assistance? 

Dr Stephen Adaawen: ‘Poor nations are highly affected by the negative impacts of climate change. Yet, much of the greenhouse gas emission is done by the industrialised countries at the expense of poor nations. This global injustice imposes a moral obligation to industrialised countries to provide much more financial assistance to developing countries in quest to strengthen their resilience and adaptation interventions and programmes.’ 

Juliana Fischer: Which role does the EU play in the context of migration and climate change?

Dr Stephen Adaawen: ‘People’s livelihoods are being threatened. This has implications for poverty reduction, security, human displacement and migration. For those who cannot cope, migration often becomes an alternative. Whilst the majority of people often displaced tend to move within national borders, climate change impacts may even aggravate the desperate attempts by especially young people to reach Europe in the near future. Europe can’t absorb all migrants, but keeping them at bay is also no solution. In this sense, much more commitment at building capacities and empowering people in developing countries could enhance resilience towards climate change effects. This presents a much more viable approach to managing the potential for an aggravated climate-induced migration of people from sub-Saharan Africa to Europe. 

Juliana Fischer: How can global cooperation efforts improve the situation of climate refugees? 

Dr Stephen Adaawen: ‘A critical issue that has drawn considerable attention from global decision makers is that  there still remains a serious gap in terms of formal international legal provision for the recognition and protection of climate or environmental refugees. The 1951 refugee convention is silent on climate refugees, and as such the legally binding obligation for their protection. But there are positive developments like the Nansen Initiative, being spearheaded by Norway and Switzerland.It advances cooperation in enhancing a protection agenda for people displaced by climate change events and disasters. Countries that are parties to the initiative take up advocacy relating to the need to consider the rights of people who have been displaced by environmental disasters and climate change impacts. This surely gives occasion to hope, as this may well feature as part of ongoing negotiations towards a Global Compact for Migration.’ 

Juliana Fischer: You do research on regional migration dynamics in West Africa. How does climate change affect regional migration patterns here? 

Dr Stephen Adaawen: ‘In West Africa, migration has always been a defining societal characteristic, but the worsening of environmental conditions across the Sahel has not only affected agricultural livelihoods but amplified the movement of people, particularly from nomadic herders from the much drier areas to wet forested areas in the south. They often look for pastureland and water for their animals. The resultant competition over fertile pastureland and water has often been the basis for clashes and in most cases violent conflicts between farmers and herders. These kinds of situations tend to have implications for national security, stability and societal cohesions across the sub-region’.  

Dr Stephen Adaawen is Postdoc Fellow at the Centre and expert on migration and population dynamics in West Africa. In his research project at the Centre, he explores the challenges of regional migration and cooperation in Ghana and Nigeria. 

Notes: 

[1] UNHCR 2017: http://www.unhcr.org/news/latest/2016/11/581f52dc4/frequently-asked-questions-climate-change-disaster-displacement.html 

Martin Wolf
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