Climate migration and resettlement workshop: thoughts from the discussions

The one day workshop, organized by the Climate Change, Culture and Society Cluster in collaboration with the Leverhulme Doctoral Programme in Climate Justice at the University of Reading, had a diverse range of participants from both academia and INGOs working in migration, loss and damage and resettlement of displaced groups and individuals.

The general objective of the workshop was to understand the conditions under which bottom-up claims-making for displacement and resettlement would be possible for those displaced and/or resettled because of both fast and slow onset disasters.

A few issues came up that I found particularly interesting:

  1. Uncertainty of climate change projections and attribution of extreme events, which was discussed in relation to the use of uncertain information to make attributions and decisions regarding who should claim and pay for displacements and resettlements.[1] This was also related to the attribution of displacements to climate events, with the awareness that displacements and resettlements were not entirely a result of climate and climate change related events, but were because of the combined effect of other social and political factors which interacted to produce displacements and resettlements. This resonates with knowledge on climate change impacts where the capacity to adapt is a factor of risk to climate related shocks and stresses as well as vulnerability, meaning that an individual’s ability to adapt to climate change is not purely dictated by their exposure to a climate risk, but is also a matter of other pre-existing social and economic factors which might or might not be related to the climate risk in question. It was therefore noted that in such cases, actors needed to be clear on what percentage of the overall impact and cost of resettlement and displacement would be attributed to climate change.
  2. Development of long-term policies on displacement and resettlement. Clarity of terminologies relating to displacement, resettlement and claim-making was still required, as well as an understanding of what displacements, migrations and claims-making meant for individuals and states, both now and in the future. A presentation by Reuven Ziegler illustrated how legal definitions relating to refugees and displaced persons has evolved over the years and has moved from just considering individuals who cross national borders (arising from civil conflict) to include internal and climate driven displacements.

However, meeting discussions pointed towards a limited understanding, by state actors, on how best to define policies relating to displaced people, leaving them more likely to have negative effects resulting from less forward looking policies. Georgia was used as an example, whose refugee policy, developed more than two decades ago, was costing the government millions of dollars as a result of the new and continuously changing structure of migrants and displaced people. This policy was unable to comprehensively define who would be considered a refugee, which has produced unprecedented negative effects on both government planning and resources capabilities, as well as the socio-economic consequences on refugees and displaced groups.[2]

Most important of all, the workshop sparked thoughts of equity, especially in relation to who should make claims, what sort of claims should be made/accepted, and on what bases these claims should be distributed. These were discussed both inter and intra-generationally. It is important that displacement/resettlement and the resultant impacts on groups and individuals  be analysed in two ways: internally, in regards to understanding groups that are most impacted within communities, and identifying the ‘voiceless’ in the claims-making processes, for example children, whose needs can easily be overlooked in such cases; and externally, which requires a focus on host communities (people already inhabiting a place) or those indirectly impacted by displacements or resettlements. For example, if a displaced community is a major producer of a region’s staple food, then their displacement has ramifications on the food security of other communities who either buy food from the displaced community, offer farm labour etc. Additionally, resettlement of communities results in direct and indirect impacts to host communities, both politically, economically and socially. Ethics and equity require that these impacts not be ignored.

However, one question remains unanswered, and this related to what I mentioned earlier on defining policies that serve the present and future generations: what is the limit of claims-making? How far should claims relating to generations or indirect impacts within a generation be considered?

By Jessica Omukuti, First Year Leverhulme Doctoral Scholar

[1] From presentation by Ted Shepherd, University of Reading.

[2] Kurshitashvili, 2012. The Impact of Socially Ir/responsible Resettlement on the Livelihoods of Internally Displaced Persons in Georgia