Environmental Displacement and Environmental Migration: Blurred Boundaries Require Integrated Policies


Michaela Hynie, York University; Prateep Nayak,  University of Waterloo, Teresa Gomes & Ifrah Abdillah, University of Toronto

[RRN/CRS Policy Brief Submitted to the Government of Canada, December 2, 2016]

Executive Summary

As the pace and severity of environmental change increase, environmental migration is being recognized as a necessary and potentially beneficial adaptation to change, rather than a failure to adapt. The distinction between forced displacement and voluntary migration is blurred and thus current legal and policy frameworks do not apply. Moreover, there has been little progress on the development of policies governing international environmental migration. International environmental migration is typically regional, over the nearest border, and follows along pre-existing migration corridors. Because of Canada’s relative physical isolation, we are unlikely to experience much increase in regional environmental migration but will likely see increased demand for temporary migration. Canada can take leadership in policies that recognize the place of environmental migration at the intersection of environment, immigration, development, security, and human rights by developing models of intersectoral policy and governance, while demonstrating that commitments to humanitarian principles, human rights, and sustainable development can be consistent with domestic goals of economic growth and security.


  1. Canada should develop clearer guidelines for when and how it implements humanitarian responses to environmental disasters resulting in the sudden creation of large groups of displaced people and/or refugees, in coordination with international agencies and policies.
  2. Canadian national and international environmental adaptation policies should continue to encourage mitigation and adaptation but also explicitly include support for migration as an adaptation strategy.
  3. Establishment of a national intersectoral governance body is necessary to ensure effective and integrated planning of environmental migration.
  4. Immigration policies need to recognize environmental change as an important, inevitable driver of global migration that intersects with and alters other drivers.
  5. Canada’s support for international policies governing internal environmental displacement and migration should be strengthened as part of our commitment to global environmental and humanitarian goals.
  6. Canada can build on its current status as a “best practices” model for temporary migration by endorsing the UN Convention on Migrant Workers and Families, and leading in the revision of national policies to better protect the rights of international migrants, including temporary and cyclical migrants.
  7. Bilateral labour agreements for temporary and cyclical migration could be expanded to address humanitarian, environmental and livelihood needs, and revised to further ensure protection for migrants’ rights.
  8. Expansion of international education programs should be explored as an additional means to provide access to temporary and cyclical migration for environmental migrants, perhaps as a parallel to the successful World University Service of Canada program.
The full policy brief can be downloaded HERE.

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