By Elisa Jiménez Alonso
A recently published study by the EU-funded project “Migration, environment and climate change: Evidence for policy” (MECLEP) assessed to what extent human mobility, including migration, displacement and planned relocation, can benefit or undermine adaptation to climate change. While migration can act as an adaptation strategy that helps households to diversify their income and prepare for hazards, involuntary displacement due to natural hazards can increase the vulnerability of people and poses a challenge for adaptation. Planned relocation can both be a successful adaptation strategy and expose people to new vulnerabilities. The report emphasises the importance of sharing knowledge and experience for better migration policies.
Different types of human mobility
The researchers differentiate between three types of human mobility: Migration, displacement and planned relocation. Migration refers to people moving for certain purposes, like finding employment or education, or reuniting with family members. This can be a positive adaptation strategy; in Haiti, for example, seasonal migrants were found to be generally less vulnerable thanks to their increased chances of finding work. Displacement, which is involuntary, usually affects the most vulnerable and poses a challenge to adaptation as it tends to increase vulnerability in the long term even though it can be an important protection mechanism. Finally, planned relocation for adaptation can lead to mixed results. People are moved out of harm’s way, but their social vulnerability can potentially increase if there are no measures in place that will help them establish sustainable livelihoods in the long term.
Migration affecting adaptation
The report shows that migration is already a widely-used adaptation strategy to increase resilience or avoid harm. Surveyed migrant households often perceived migration to have a positive impact on income and employment, which highlights the importance of mobility for income diversification. Migration is also important to fight poverty because remittances are often used for basic necessities in the receiving households. However, the research showed that remittances impact poverty reduction rather than adaptive capacity leaving out a very important aspect of climate resilience.
Furthermore, migrant households often used less robust housing materials, undermining their efforts to adapt to environmental and climate change. These households were more likely to face discrimination and be excluded from health care and education, hampering human development and their adaptation efforts even more.
The report has three policy recommendations to improve the adaptive capacity of migrant households:
- Maximizing migration as an adaptation strategy to environmental stress: Migration should be recognised as an adaptation option in environment and climate change policies, especially internal migration, acknowledging that in some cases it can have a positive impact.
- Fostering policy coherence through data collection, research and capacity-building: National assessments on migration, environment and climate change can be a good way to produce coherent policies based on actual data. At the same time, preparing such assessments in collaboration with different stakeholders can raise awareness and foster a dialogue between different policy areas. The MECLEP project also offers a training manual on migration, environment and climate change, that can help build relevant capacities to facilitate an awareness raising process.
- Prioritizing vulnerable groups: Prevention through disaster risk reduction and the establishment of early warning systems can be two powerful ways to protect vulnerable people. At the same time, integrating migration into urban planning in order to reduce challenges for migrants and communities of destination can further build resilience in the long term.