UN University – Policies needed in the Pacific to address climate migration

  • 2015•06•09     Bonn

    As the architecture of the international climate agreement takes shape this week at the UNFCCC climate talks, United Nations University (UNU) researchers call for migration policies in the Pacific.

    The recent devastating super storms, Cyclone Pam and Typhoon Maysak, have again called the international spotlight to the vulnerability of the Pacific region to climate stressors. Researchers from the United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS) have just returned from the region, where they analyzed how these climate-related impacts affect migration in the Pacific Islands.

    “Climate change is expected to intensify the magnitude and frequency of hurricanes and cyclones. Sea level rise and ocean acidification will negatively affect fisheries and local infrastructure,” says Dr. Cosmin Corendea, Senior Researcher at UNU-EHS. “The combination of these threats is likely to make parts of the region uninhabitable, environmentally induced migration must be recognized as a significant issue.”

    When migrants make the difficult decision to leave their homes they often face challenges once they arrive at their new destination. The challenges continue when trying to access the local labour market or education systems in the destination areas as are there often no local regulatory policies in place which can support the migrants’ integration. In addition they may face conflict and loss of cultural identify.

    Dr. Corendea researches conflict scenarios at arriving destinations for environmentally induced migrants and just undertook field work in Fiji, Samoa, Tuvalu and Kiribati where he focused on minimizing conflict associated with forced migration in the Pacific region.

    “Climate change is a multiplying factor, which exacerbates vulnerabilities that correlate with migration and conflict. The loss of culture and identity as well as cultural misunderstandings are the main challenge to one out of four migrants in the region. We need effective migration policies to minimize such tensions and improve the overall human security situation in the Pacific.”

    UNU-EHS researcher Andrea Milan, also returned recently from fieldwork in Kiribati, Nauru and Tuvalu assessing community attitudes towards climate change and migration for the Pacific Climate Change and Migration (PCCM) project. The project is producing the largest empirical survey of climate change and migration currently available for the Pacific. Key goals of the project are to strengthen the Pacific Islands’ national capacity to use migration as a way to adapt to climate change impacts.

    “Preliminary findings are showing us that there are challenges but also potential opportunities when it comes to migration in the context of climate change, provided countries are prepared,” says Mr. Milan, “Voluntary migration can be an adaptation strategy that allows people to diversify their income, relieve environmental pressure and, particularly through remittances, reduce climate change vulnerability for those left behind.”

    Mr. Milan oversaw the household surveys undertaken across eight islands in the three countries. Survey data is currently being analyzed, with draft country reports expected in October. Recommendations that arise from the research findings will directly contribute to the development of national action plans in the region.

    Researchers at UNU-EHS have been pioneers in the field of human mobility including migration and environmental change, conducting on the ground research in over 40 developing and developed countries around the world. Research has ranged from Somalis and Ethiopians fleeing extreme drought, to Guatemalans migrating in response to increased rainfall variability.

    “As the world´s leaders push towards a new climate agreement in 2015 in Paris, it must address climate change and human mobility, not just in the Pacific, but every place where people are moving in relation to the impacts of climate change,” says Dr. Koko Warner, Senior Expert at UNU-EHS, “In the run-up to Paris, governments need to account for human mobility in their domestic and regional policies to ensure that if people must move they can do so in safety and dignity.”


    About UNU-EHS
    The United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU‐EHS) addresses the risk and vulnerability aspects of human security and the consequences of complex environmental hazards for sustainable development. Through applied research and education UNU‐EHS puts climate vulnerable communities at the centre of the climate policy debate. The United Nations University (UNU) is a global think‐tank and the academic arm of the UN. To learn more, please visit http://ehs.unu.edu/.

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    Media Contacts
    Janine Kandel
    Head of Communication
    United Nations University
    Institute for Environment and Human Security
    Tel + 49-228-815-0219

    Sijia Yi
    Communication Associate
    United Nations University
    Institute for Environment and Human Security
    Tel + 49 228 815 0284
    yi@vie.unu.edu ; @sijia_yi