Forced migration or effective adaptation? Thresholds of linear or non-linear migratory responses to climate change

Paper presented by Douglas Kenneth Bardsley at 12th IASFM Conference There are few well-researched answers available to many important questions emerging regarding the impact that climate change will have on migration patterns. Even if impacts of climate change on populations can be projected, the implications of environmental change for migration are little understood. This is especially true because it could be assumed that most people will not migrate as a result of climate change impacts and in situ adaptation options will dominate unless people are fundamentally displaced from their terrestrial space. In fact, migration as a response to climate change could be seen as a failure of in situ adaptation methods, or rather, it could be perceived as part of a broader creative adaptation response to environmental risk. Climate change will affect migration patterns as a result of both gradual changes to natural resource condition, and the experience or perception of sudden events resulting from climatic hazards. A series of fundamental questions are raised for researchers of forced migration: will migration be influenced by climate change in a linear manner or will there be thresholds or tipping points, after which there will be fundamental changes in migration levels or patterns? And consequently, will it be possible to identify points after which the impacts of climate change are so severe or so regular that the inherent resilience of socio-ecological systems is breached, or in situ adaptation options fail and people make use of migration as an adaptation option in a manner that will fundamentally alter the form migration is taking? This paper critiques answers to these questions in light of potential linear and non-linear migratory responses to projected climate change within particularly vulnerable regions including Mediterranean climatic regions, low-lying coastal cities and small-island states, where ‘dangerous climate change’ may already be occurring across the globe.

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