The environment-migration nexus, on both sides of the boundary between environmental and migration policies

This paper was presented by Francois Gemenne at the 12th IASFM Conference. Massive population displacements are now regularly forecasted as one of the most dramatic possible consequences of climate change. Logically, most discourses on ‘environmental migration’ are rooted in a deterministic perspective, assuming a direct causal relationship between environmental disruption and forced migration, while dismissing the role of policies and other migration drivers. This paper aims to offer another perspective by looking at the role of policies in addressing displacements associated with environmental factors. Despite the recent emergence of the concept of ‘environmental migration’, empirical studies show that environmental factors have always impacted upon population displacements, and this relationship has been addressed in different normative frameworks over time. Environmental migration, as a concept, lies at the crossroads between two policy fields: environmental and migration policies. Thus environmental policies have played a prominent role in addressing environmental displacement, but their linkage with migration policies has not yet been fully conceptualized. The paper analyses how the concept of environmental migration has been shaped by different political agendas in the two policy fields, and how these fields have interacted with each other and evolved in different directions. Though the ‘environment-migration nexus’ suggests a blurring of environmental and migration policies, these policies remain rooted in different perspectives and address displacements differently. This paper shall pay a special attention to the way environmental policies have conceptualized environmental displacement, and impacted upon migration and asylum policies. I shall argue that the different – and sometimes conflicting – agendas of these two policy fields might explain the confusion and controversies that continue to surround the very concept of environmental migration.

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