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We need to change the conversation about migration: it’s a powerful tool of climate resilience and adaptation

By Alex Randall on November 23, 2023

Fishermen in Bangladesh pray for a benevolent sea before going fishing, after one of the strongest cyclones to hit the country killed thousands of fishermen at sea.

Migration is a powerful tool of climate resilience and adaptation – not a security threat as is too often portrayed in the media. Migration is already helping some of the most vulnerable people protect themselves from climate change. This blog accompanies a new report which explores the climate and migration nexus, and outlines policies and practices that governments can implement to increase safety and enhance opportunities to use migration as a form of resilience building.

Across the world people are using migration as a way of coping with climate change.  Climate change is supercharging disasters like droughts, and people are moving as a way of protecting their lives and livelihoods. Migration is a lifeline for many. It often provides people with an escape route from places where making a living is becoming harder and harder. 

By moving, people may be able to access jobs that are less threatened by climate change impacts. For example, when threatened by drought, people may be able to seek non-farm work or work that is less dependent on consistent rainfall.

When people move to find work they very often send a portion of their income back to their family who have stayed behind. This flow of money is becoming a critical aspect of climate resilience. This money may be invested in enhancing local agricultural resilience, such as improving irrigation or switching to drought-tolerant crops. 

This financial flow also helps provide a financial safety net for families affected by climate change. A household that is highly dependent on income from agriculture can potentially use remittances from a migrant household member to cope with temporary income loss during drought or other climate-driven interruptions to their income. 

This new reality presents a challenge to governments across the world. Migration linked to climate change is no longer a far-off future scenario. For many people migration represents their best shot at climate resilience. In a new report we make the case that rather than trying to curtail migration, governments should instead find ways of making it safer. 

By making migration safer, governments potentially allow more people to use it as a way of building their climate resilience.  Our report make the case that creating new, safe legal migration options for climate-vulnerable communities should be seen as part of a new approach to climate adaptation. Through cooperation to make migration safer, governments are helping to build the climate resilience and adaptation options open to climate vulnerable communities. 

This approach represents a break from many of the common narratives and policy conversations about climate-driven migration and displacement. Policymakers and the media often view climate-driven migration as a threat or a security problem. Our report shows that far from being a security risk, migration is already helping some of the most vulnerable people protect themselves from climate change. 

Many policy options are open to governments who want to recognise migration as a vital part of the climate adaptation tool kit. 

Creating employment opportunities in regions where migrants are likely to relocate will be vital. This could involve investing in sectors that are already creating work in locations that people are likely to need to move to. It can also mean investing in sectors that are key to the transition towards zero-carbon societies. 

The people who most need to move may find that their skills are mismatched with the available jobs in safer locations. This is potentially  a barrier to many people who want to use migration as a way of coping with climate change. Establishing training and education programmes that help people access work in potential destination locations will be an essential part of widening access to migration.

As more people use migration as a climate resilience measure, improving and enforcing legal frameworks to safeguard the rights of all migrants will be essential. This includes access to basic services and protection from discrimination, exploitation and violence.

The people facing the most acute climate risks are those who have contributed the least to global heating. All governments must begin to recognise the importance of climate-driven migration, but the governments of high emitting countries have a special responsibility to provide financial  support and new legal migration options. 

 

This blog was written as part of our Climate and Migration Coalition, which Climate Outreach created to provide a platform for organisations to engage with climate-linked migration and displacement. Through partnerships, the coalition provides training, insights and resources that build these organisations’ capacity to engage with climate-linked mobility. We also engage in policy work around climate-linked mobility, focusing on advocacy on the rights and welfare of people at risk of displacement.

Reports & guides

Reports & guides

Resilience on the move: migration’s powerful role in creating climate resilience

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By Alex Randall

Alex manages the Climate Change and Migration Coalition – an alliance that exists to challenge the lack of long-term strategies to support and protect people at risk of displacement linked to environmental change.

Before joining Climate Outreach, he worked at the Centre for Alternative Technology. He has also worked for the Public Interest Research Centre on their Values and Frames project. He co-founded Cheat Neutral, a spoof offsetting company, and UN Fair Play, an organisation that works with small island states at international climate change negotiations.

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