Tuesday, February 14, 2012

People displaced by climate change need our help, but so do those who cannot leave

Sir John Beddington in a guest blog at Scientific American: The environment is already affecting patterns of human migration. On the island of Hatia, along coastal Bangladesh, 22 percent of households have migrated to cities as a coping strategy following tidal surges. But we would be wrong to assume that our only concern should be for the millions of people who might try to leave areas of environmental stress that are affected by hazards such as droughts, floods, water scarcity and land degradation. In fact, a recent UK report has shown that a focus on populations migrating away from environmental change neglects two key groups of vulnerable people: the many millions who will actually migrate into areas of environmental threat, and those who will be trapped there by economic, social or indeed environmental challenges.

The report, “Foresight: Migration and Global Environmental Change,” released by the U.K. Government Office for Science, has found that the decision to migrate is a complex and multi-faceted one. This two year study, which I oversaw, involved 350 leading experts from more than 30 countries. It found that migration patterns are influenced by a wide range of inter-related drivers, including social ties, political situations and the desire of individuals to earn a wage. Global-scale changes to our environments will increasingly affect these factors, for instance through further eroding rural livelihoods and eliminating income streams. Yet, paradoxically, a deteriorating environment is also likely to make migration more difficult for many of the world’s most vulnerable, because it eats away the assets that local inhabitants need to make this move. This is what makes identifying “environmental migrants” so problematic—just because a person’s environment is deteriorating doesn’t mean he or she will move.

We often forget that migration is not easy; it can be expensive and often relies on having good social ties in some other area, reasonable economic capital and favorable political conditions, such as the existence of bilateral migration arrangements or the absence of conflict. ...Therefore, although migration patterns are likely to be a concern for most governments, the alternative—population pressures increasing in locations where people have little chance to move and diversify their incomes—is arguably even more troubling.

What this means is that just because a community faces environmental hazards, even severe ones, it does not necessarily follow that local people will migrate to escape those conditions....

German-Russian emigrants in 1929, from the Bundesarchiv

1 comment:

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