Comment to article: Piguet E. Linking climate change, environmental degradation, and migration: An update after 10 years. Wiley Interdiscip Rev Clim Chang. 2022 Jan 1;13(1).
The author updates the review he conducted ten years ago analysing the literature available on this topic, and proposes a number of new questions that are crucial to improving the theoretical underpinning of this subfield.
1. Do mobility and migration allow for better adaption?
Mobility as an adaptation strategy has become prominent in research (Gemenne y Blocher, 2017). Correlatively, the issue of immobility and trapped populations due to poverty and liquidity constraints emerged (Zickgraf, 2019), as well as the question regarding environmental migration destinations (Thiede et al., 2016). Literature indicates that migration only holds potential for effective adaptation for specific groups and circumstances (Vinke et al., 2020; Wiegel et al., 2019), although empirical research documenting such mechanisms remains scarce.
2. Which populations are affected by environmental change?
The definition of «environmental refugee», suggested decades ago, has served to personify the dramatic consequences of climate change, but it has also been criticized for oversimplifying the mechanisms at stake. It also conceals the diversity and the future of the populations affected. As a result, what classical migration theories call selectivity of migration in relation to age, ethnicity, social class, gender, etc., has attracted growing attention in recent years. A recent study conducted in India shows that, for example, as opposed to other migrants, those affected by climate are more likely to come from low-skilled households that rely heavily on agricultural production (Sedova y Kalkuhl, 2020). A study conducted in Latin America (Baezet al., 2017) shows that younger individuals are more likely to migrate as a response to droughts or hurricanes, whilst (Drabo & Mbaye, 2015) points to the potential brain drain consequences of natural disasters for the Global South.
3. How do people perceive their environment?
The way people perceive environmental hazards and climate change has been poorly addressed over the last decade. Is there a discrepancy between objective measures and perceptions? What is the role of religion, culture and local histories in the way people perceive their environment, experience place attachment (Dandy et al., 2019) and eventually plan to migrate? Whilst research has been conducted on the role of perception in climate adaption and environmental decision-making in general, there is considerably less work in relation to migration. A recent study on Burkina-Faso (DeLongueville, Ozer, et al., 2020) shows that no single study addressing migration issues has yet systematically combined climate data and data on climate change perceptions. This pioneering research has revealed that meteorological data and the perception regarding rainfalls do indeed differ.
Another study surveyed individuals from five developing countries and found that perceiving oneself as being at risk of harm from a sudden onset environmental event, such as floods or extreme storms, creates a relatively high potential for migration (Koubi et al., 2016). When such migration occurs, it occurs abruptly. On the contrary, the perception of low-onset environmental risks, such as droughts or soil erosion, is unlikely to stimulate thoughts of migration. The latter is consistent with studies of populations living on low-lying Pacific atolls (Stojanov et al., 2017). In Kiribati, Tuvalu and Nauru, Oakes (2019) shows, for example, that culture, and especially the way islanders relate with land and religion, influence mobility decision-making; hence, encouraging or hindering mobility.
4. What is the role of immigration policies in shaping (im)mobilities?
Research on environmentally induced migration evidences that most people who migrate move locally, and that international movements are less frequent, especially following sudden-onset disasters. This conclusion is true for most of cases and remains an essential message for worldwide policymakers in a context full of misplaced fears of migration flows.
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