Opinion: Understanding everyday perceptions: the ‘third wave’ of climate change and migration research?

Nigeria flood 2011 4Dr Alex Arnall, Walker Institute and Lecturer in Agriculture & Development, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development

The dramatic influx of people into Europe from North Africa and the Middle East this summer highlights the long recognised role that conflict, poverty and political unrest play as drivers of migration. These events have, once again, placed international migration at the top of the European political agenda. But what role does environmental change, and particularly global climate change, play in this complex picture of human movement? This question is being considered increasingly by both researchers and policymakers. However, as Dr Alex Arnall explains, this recent environmental turn in migration studies has been far from simple, and debate continues over how best to understand the phenomenon.

It has long been recognised that changes in the environment can alter patterns of human movement. More recently, the impacts of climate change on people’s migration behaviours and mobility has been a subject of considerable interest to national governments and international development organisations. In particular, concern has been raised that climate change will increase population movements as migration becomes a significant climate change adaptation strategy or an indication of a failure to adapt.

It is in this context that research scientists and policymakers have set out to better understand the links between climate change and migration. However, the nature of this work has changed considerably in recent years. The aim of this article is to describe two distinct ‘waves’ of climate change and migration research that have occurred to date, and suggest that we are on the cusp of a new ‘third wave’ which aims to engage with people’s everyday experiences, perceptions and understandings of environmental change and mobility.

Climate change ‘refugees’

The first wave of climate change and migration research emerged in the mid-2000s. It focussed on the problem of the ‘climate change refugee’, defined as someone who is forced to relocate due to climate change-related impacts, such as flood and drought. Ten years ago, this issue was of considerable interest to policymakers, not least because of a widely-quoted report produced by the international NGO, Christian Aid, which stated that there could be as many as one billion climate change refugees worldwide by the 2050s. This raised the possibility of mass immigration of people into the developed world from developing countries, a scenario that alarmed some western-based politicians.

This first phase of research placed the climate change and migration issue high on the international agenda. However, it was not long before migration scientists began to question the numbers of potential refugees that were being reported, pointing out that one billion people seemed unfeasibly high. Moreover, some policymakers working on forced migration issues objected to the use of the word ‘refugee’ in an environmental sense, arguing that it undermined the term’s association with more traditionally-recognised problems such as persecution and conflict.

Drivers of migration

It was against this backdrop that the second wave of climate change and migration research emerged, which addressed the ‘drivers of migration’. This research was built around a major Foresight Report on Migration and Global Environmental Change released by the UK Government’s Office for Science in 2011.

The science underpinning the Foresight Report was more interdisciplinary that that of the first wave, and received more direct involvement by migration experts. This resulted in a more sophisticated theoretical basis that took into account existing patterns of migration – especially rural-urban and national-based ‘circular’ migration – and how such processes might be accelerated or disrupted by present-day and future global environmental change. A major conclusion from the study was that climate change risked ‘trapping’ millions of people in areas increasingly susceptible to climate-related shocks and stresses.

Incorporating ‘ordinary’ voices

There is no doubt that the second wave was a major step forward in understanding the relationship between migration and climate change. However, in the past few years, new research has begun to emerge. Instead of focussing on the views of scientists and experts, this ‘third wave’ aims to bring the voices and experiences of ‘ordinary’ people into the frame, particularly those of vulnerable or marginalised groups that are directly affected by global environmental change.

The third wave is especially relevant to small-island developing countries, or SIDS, based in the Pacific and Indian Oceans. These countries are considered by the international community to be particularly vulnerable to climate change, mainly due to sea level rise. However, as a range of recent research articles1 have demonstrated, this ‘reality’ can look very different when viewed from the perspective of ordinary islanders, rather than those of national ‘elites’ engaged in international climate change negotiations. For example, instead of seeing themselves as vulnerable, or even ‘helpless’, in the face of global climate change, our research2 in the Maldives indicates that islanders very often have long histories of coping with, and adapting to, a wide range of shocks and stresses via migration to and from the national capital, Malé.

Although still in its early stages, research conducted to date suggests that this third wave is important for two main reasons. First, understanding everyday perspectives can improve climate change communication, and can even help to overcome the risks of climate change scepticism and denial.

Second, this work can provide new meanings of, and insights into, existing climate change and migration-related problems, and assist in the development of more effective responses that place the interests, goals and aspirations of vulnerable people at the centre of concern. In short, it can recognise the agency of marginalised people directly affected by global environmental change. It is in this respect that the third wave of climate change and migration research should continue to grow in the years to come.


1 For example:

  • Farbotko, C. and Lazrus, H. (2012) The first climate refugees? Contesting global narratives of climate change in Tuvalu. Global Environmental Change, 22:2, pp 382-390.
  • Marino, E. (2012) The long history of environmental relocation: Assessing vulnerability construction and obstacles to successful relocation in Shishmaref, Alaska. Theme Issue: Adding Insult to Injury: Climate Change, Social Stratification and the Inequities of Intervention. E. Marino & J. Ribot (Eds.) Global Environmental Change, 22:2, pp 374-381.
  • Mortreux, C and Barnett, J. (2008) Climate change, migration and adaptation in Funafuti, Tuvalu. Global Environmental Change, 19:1, pp 105-112.
  • Shen, S and Gemenne, F. (2011) Contrasted views on environmental change and migration: the case of Tuvaluan migration to New Zealand. International Migration, 49:s1, pp. e224-e242.


2 Funded by the Norwegian Research Council, project no. 217188/H30.

Opinion: Understanding Climate Change and Infectious Disease – is the One Health movement enough?

Dr Claire Heffernan and Kathy Maskell

Dr Heffernan is a Principal Research Fellow in the Livestock Development Group, School of Agriculture, Policy and Development. Her research interests include climate change adaptation and resilience, infectious disease, One Health, and sustainable low carbon development for the global livestock sector, global food security and trade. Kathy Maskell is Communications Manager at the University of Reading’s Walker Institute

In the coming decades, climate change is predicted to produce a range of direct and indirect impacts on both human and animal health. At the most basic level, rising temperatures and changes to rainfall patterns have a direct impact on vector populations and thereby, vector-borne diseases (VBDs). For example, human diseases such as malaria and dengue are now occurring at higher altitudes and latitudes, which historically have been free of the disease (Dhiman et al., 2010). This change has been directly attributed to climate warming. Outbreaks of livestock disease in new geographies such as blue tongue disease in Europe have also been linked to climate change (more specifically seven of the warmest winters in Europe on record during the late 1990s to early 2000s)(Tabachnick, 2010).

The extreme weather events (EWE) associated with climate change such as droughts and floods in addition to direct effects, may also have indirect impacts on the incidence and prevalence of infectious disease. Extreme flooding often causes a break-down in sanitation, supporting an increase in water-borne diseases such as typhoid and cholera. EWEs also often forge food and livelihood insecurity, which in turn supports shifts in both human and animal populations. Thus, while changes to vector populations may alter the geographic spread of a climate sensitive disease, the displacement of the host population (both human and animal) is equally influential to disease distribution. Resident populations may be exposed to pathogens transferred by migrants or conversely migrants may be exposed to new pathogens in their new environment. Among pastoralist populations in Africa, droughts frequently displace populations into refuges camps. Recent epidemics of meningitis, hepatitis E and cholera have occurred in refugee camps in Kenya, Somalia and the Sudan (Ahmed et al., 2013).

Determining the role and influence of climate warming on disease highlights another issue: our approach to understanding this new disease landscape itself. Despite the drivers being the same for human and animal disease, historically, there has often been little synergy between veterinary and human disease investigations. However, in recent years the emergence of a range of threats originally attributed to animal pathogens such as Sudden Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza (HPAI), Swine Flu and Ebola has underscored the need for a combined approach.

With this recognition has come the rise of the One Health agenda which aims ‘to promote and improve the health of humans, animals and our environment, (AVMA, 2008). Crucially, One Health fosters collaboration between veterinary, medical, public health and environmental disciplines across the global health arena (FAO, 2011).

Despite this focus on the environment and in particular, the interface between disease and local ecologies, One Health, has not been widely utilized as a framework to perform detailed explorations of the impacts of climate change on infectious disease.

Part of the problem is the very nature of the One Health discourse. While One Health has been a rhetorical force across the field of Global health it has been less sure-footed as an analytical device. Critical issues in operationalising One Health include problems with knowledge silos and the need for better metrics across projects and programmes (Kihu and Heffernan, 2015). Explorations of the role of climate change on disease require both a robust and yet inclusive analytical approach. Indeed, it has been argued that climate change is not a single driver of disease but rather an embedded context and as such, is likely to influence a range of diseases in the same landscape among resident human, livestock and wildlife hosts, at the same time (Heffernan, 2015).

At its best, the One Health approach has the ability to identify the synergies and interactions important to disease transmission at the systems-level. The longevity and usefulness of the One Health paradigm is likely to depend on widening the frame to focus on climate change at the systems, as opposed to individual disease, level.



Ahmed J., Moturi E., Spiegel P., Schilperoord M., Burton W., Kassim N., et al. (2013). Hepatitis E outbreak, Dadaab Refugee Camp, Kenya, 2012 [letter]. Emerg Infect Dis, 19(6): 1010-1011.

AVMA (2008). One Health: A new professional imperative. One Health Initiative Task Force: Final Report. American Veterinary Medical Association, Chicago, IL. https://www.avma.org/KB/Resources/Reports/Documents/onehealth_final.pdf

Costello A. et al. (2009). Lancet and University College London Institute for Global Health Commission: managing the health effects of climate change. Lancet 373:1693-1733.

Dhiman, R., Pahwa, S., Dhillon, G., Dash, A. (2010). Climate change and the threat of vector-borne diseases in India: are we prepared? Parisitol Res 106 (4): 763-73.

FAO (2011). One Health: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations Strategic Action Plan. FAO, Rome.

Heffernan, C. (2013). The climate change infectious disease nexus: is it time for climate change syndemics? Anim Health Res Rev 14:151-157.

Heffernan, C. (2015). Climate change and infectious disease: is it time for a new normal? Lancet Infect Dis 15: 343-344.

IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability. Part A: Global and Sectoral Aspects. Contribution of Working Group II to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kihu, S. and Heffernan, C. (2015). One Health Metrics, Measures and Impacts. Report of a One-Day Think Tank, Sankara Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya. March 23, 2015.

Perry, B. and Sones, K. (2007). Poverty reduction through animal health. Science (315): 333-334.

Tabachnick, W. (2010). Challenges in predicting climate and environmental effects on vector-borne disease episystems in a changing world. J Exp Biol 213, 946-954.

Opinion: The Road to Paris – can we navigate the pot holes to a global deal in December?!

UNclimatelogoDr Chuks Okereke gives his personal account of progress, or the lack of it, from the recent UN climate meeting in Bonn (June 2015). Chuks is Associate Professor in Environment and Development and Associate Director of Leverhulme Climate Justice and Ethics Doctorate Training programme at the University of Reading.

The UN climate negotiations are famous for their agonisingly slow progress and last minute, late night deals, but even by their own standards, the Bonn meeting was notoriously frustrating, both in pace and content.

The 42nd meeting of the Subsidiary Bodies to the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (to use its technical name) which closed on Friday 12th June is just one more step on the road to the full UN Climate Summit in December in Paris. If it offers an indication of the kind of ‘deal’ to be expected in Paris then, clearly the omen is not good.

Game playing by the developed countries

While the Heads of State of some of the world’s richest countries gave encouraging words at the G7 summit outside Munich, it seemed that their climate negotiators, just 400 miles to the north in Bonn, were playing a game of time wasting.

Led by the US and to a lesser extent Australia and Canada, developed countries chose to clutter the process with distracting talk of concepts, possible flow of text and procedural matters.  For example, in the meetings on finance the G77 (a loose grouping of developing countries) and China were anxious to have a discussion on the scale and sources of finance, while developed countries preferred to talk about whether or not it would be better to have the section on scale before or after the section on sources!

Similarly in the meeting on intended mitigation commitments developed countries refused several invitations to discuss what emission reductions pledges they might make, but rather chose to focus on possible time frames and cycles for communicating action – the form and scale is yet to be decided.

From “Common but Differentiated Responsibility” to “Common but Shifted Responsibility”

Personally, I’m deeply concerned that this game of brinkmanship and delay might lead to a rushed and half-baked Paris deal that will fall short of the ambition required to protect the Earth and the most vulnerable populations around the world.

In particular, there is a distinct danger that the Paris climate agreement, if hastily worded at the last minute by powerful countries as was the case in Copenhagen in 2009, will end up imposing unwarranted obligations on poor countries who are the victims of climate change.

Indeed, several aspects of the lengthy and convoluted negotiating text appear to demand stringent emission reduction and reporting obligations from poor developing countries without providing for the necessary financial and  technical support they will need to meet such obligations. These moves suggest that developed countries are keen to walk away from the accepted common but differentiated responsibility principle in pursuit of a perverse ethical principle which might be termed the common but shifted responsibility principle.

Equity at the Core of the Disagreement

Despite the ‘smoke and mirror’ diplomacy deployed by developed countries, the key disagreements are quite obvious and these centre on old unresolved conflicts about equity and justice.

Developing countries are adamant that developed countries should not only take on ambitious mitigation commitments but should also provide adequate and predictable finance to help facilitate adaptation and low carbon development in the South. They are also angry that developed countries have consistently failed to meet previous promises made in relation to finance, technology transfer and capacity building.

Developed countries on their own part insist that the new agreement should generate far reaching financial and emission reduction obligations for all countries, especially the developing countries with fast rising emissions and GDP. They insist that the world has changed a lot since the initial convention was signed in 1992 and that the Paris agreement must reflect these ‘new economic realities’.

Two more rounds to go before Paris

There are two more rounds of negotiations, in August and October, before the Paris Conference in December, but it is hard to see how these intractable issues and fundamental differences can be resolved in these remaining meetings.  If the debacle of Copenhagen teaches us anything, it is that lack of openness and transparency can do lasting damage to the fabric of trust on which international environmental diplomacy is built.

Developed countries should come clean with their offers on how they plan to show leadership for cutting emissions that reflect their historical responsibility. There should be a commitment to negotiate in good faith and work with liked minded countries in developing countries to work out package deal that is fair, equitable and ambitious enough to protect the world from man-made climate change. Developing countries on their own part could move the discussion forward by putting forward concrete proposals that will ‘force’ a reaction from developed countries.  A deal in Paris is both an ecological as well as a political necessity and diplomats on all sides should know that the time to move a gear in the negotiation is now.


Opinion: Can devolution enable UK cities to become smart and sustainable?

Tim DixonProfessor in Sustainable Futures in the Built Environment, School of Construction Management and Engineering, University of Reading and Walker Institute Associate

city_croppedUK cities now seem likely to get greater powers to raise money and make their own decisions under a new Conservative government. But for cities to be smarter and more sustainable, and help meet national emissions targets, three other critical elements need to be in place: an integrated vision to inspire people; innovation to bring about change; and new thinking across disciplines and professions. 

Given the promise of new devolved powers for cities, with the Conservatives focusing on the ‘Northern Powerhouse’, how might this play out as a new Conservative Government takes shape?

Recent policy reviews by think tanks such as ResPublica have argued that evolving fiscal powers to cities would enable them to achieve greater autonomy, efficiency and collaboration with a strong focus on ‘place-making’. Currently the UK has a highly centralised system of funding, with only about 17% of funding being raised locally, compared with 55% in other OECD countries. Additionally London continues to dominate the city landscape in the UK, with more than 4 out of 5 private sector jobs in the UK created there between 2010 and 2012.

Rebalancing the economy towards other key cities is essential, but the UK’s national carbon emission targets and the big role that cities play in creating emissions and consuming energy also require us to think very carefully about how we can make our cities both smarter and more sustainable. After all, smarter ways to govern cities (or ‘governance’) is an important way of helping achieve environmental, economic and social sustainability in our cities. But can we achieve this through greater devolution to cities?

The answer is, it depends, because three other pieces of the jigsaw are important too.

An integrated vision to inspire people

Firstly, it depends on whether cities also have an integrated vision of where they want to be by 2050 and beyond. Recently the “smart city” model has gained further traction, as commercial companies have seen a growing market for the future development of smart city technologies, and the supply of “big data” (or huge, dynamic datasets) has increased. Proponents argue that technology can be leveraged to enhance economic development and the quality of life, and that the increasing availability and integration of big data, can be used to underpin these goals. Information for decision-making at a range of scales is therefore vital, and further enhanced by the rapid development of pervasive technologies, such as mobile devices and ubiquitous computing, both in cities and people’s daily lives.

However, the smart city concept in its purest sense presents substantial challenges, and there is a real danger that by focusing exclusively on the alluring “smart” technology aspects of cities, that this distracts and deviates us from following a truly sustainable path of urban development. This is vital to bear in mind given that the majority of the buildings (and cities) in the developed world are likely to be still here in 2050, and so the main focus has to be on ensuring that existing cities are both smart and sustainable.

Cities need to develop an integrated approach to smart and sustainable thinking which joins up the best elements of smart technologies and sustainable practices. Developing inclusive visions for cities is fundamental to this goal, and putting people at the heart of any future vision for a city is critical to success. Although there is no single agreed definition of a smart city, smart city thinking typically sees pervasive technologies (including, for example, telecom networks, transport and infrastructure systems, sensors, meters and other networked systems) as offering the ability to connect, integrate and analyse data to enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of cities.

Data, however, does not exist in a vacuum, and people use technologies and react and behave in the context of their social practices and learning, so placing citizens centre-stage in a smart city view of the future is vital. This means not only understanding the context of the data generated, but also understanding how governance systems can be framed to protect privacy and confidentiality, as well as ensuring people across a city have access to appropriate technologies, and making sure that there is a recognition that “no one size fits all” for cities. This also means that to understand how cities respond to urban challenges, we need an integrated approach to thinking about (figure 1):

  • society;
  • economy;
  • environment; and,
  • governance


Figure 1: Four key themes in a smart and sustainable city*


*Adapted from International Telecommunications Union (2014): Smart Sustainable Cities-An Analysis of Definitions.

Innovation to bring about change

Secondly, for devolution to succeed in making our cities smart and sustainable, cities also need to recognise the benefits of using big data to improve the quality of life for its citizens through improved decision-making and better information and customer service. This needs to recognise the challenges around privacy and security. To help tackle these challenges urban innovation “ecosystems” need to be created that combine the expertise of civic society (including people and local government), business and academia. This links very closely with the idea of creating urban innovation in cities, and has also led to the development of “urban transition laboratories” or “urban living laboratories”, which are centres of reflexive learning and social innovation co-created by cities, business and academia. In a continued era of austerity, and with the likelihood of further funding cuts for local authorities, cities will also need to find innovative ways of financing the transition to a more sustainable future. Perhaps initiatives such as Gothenburg’s and Johannesburg’s green municipal bonds can provide us with valuable lessons in this respect.

New thinking across disciplines and professions

Thirdly, interdisciplinary thinking is needed, which brings together different disciplines, and this must not only be at the heart of research and development in smart and sustainable cities and big data solutions, but also in professional practice in the built environment. After all, cities are ultimately about people. As Shakespeare wrote, “What is the city but the people?” Understanding this fundamental truth is critical to developing thinking around smart and sustainable cities, and building our thinking about cities through ‘integration’, ‘innovation’ and ‘interdisciplinarity’ can help us maximise the potential of devolution in a post-election environment.

For further information on this topic please see the University of Reading’s new position paper:  Smart and Sustainable: Using Big Data to Improve People’s Lives in Cities

See also the Reading 2050 City Vision project

Opinion: Who pays for climate change damages?

A discussion of the case of the Peruvian farmer vs RWE

Chris Hilson, Professor of Law, and Associate, Walker Institute, University of Reading

It has recently been reported that a Peruvian farmer from the town of Huaraz, in the Andes mountains, is seeking to sue German energy company RWE for its contribution to climate change. The farmer claims that his house is at risk of flooding from Palcacocha Lake, as the glaciers that feed the lake continue to melt in response to warming.

Based on a 2013 paper in the journal Climate Change, the farmer is arguing that RWE, as a major European emitter, has a 0.47% responsibility for climate change. This means that it should therefore pay for 0.47% of the overall cost of protecting the village from glacial flooding, which amounts to around €20,000.

Is litigation like this a good thing? On the plus side and whatever the outcome, such a case, with its David and Goliath overtones, usefully raises the profile of the effects of climate change on a wide range of communities globally. Coming before the crucial UN Climate Change Conference in Paris later in 2015, this can only be welcomed.

Nevertheless, one might question whether the courts are the best place to determine how and where climate adaptation measures should be taken and who should pay for them. Instead, it might be better for the UN Climate Summit in Paris this December to consider extending the Adaptation Fund and much larger Green Climate Fund (GCF) to include a compulsory levy on private sector energy intensive industries. As things stand, these funds are financed principally by donations from developed country governments.

Currently the only private sector involvement is via the GCF’s Private Sector Facility, which aims to encourage private sector investment in low carbon, climate resilient projects, rather than imposing a compulsory charge or levy.

After the recent financial crisis, some may feel that it’s time for the private sector to take on its share of responsibility. Climate change litigation of the liability type aims at this, but it may end up hitting too few targets.

The recent Peru case is not the only example of poor communities at risk from climate change deciding to sue for damages. In 2009 in Kivalina v ExxonMobil, the native Alaskan village of Kivalina sued ExxonMobil and twenty three other defendant energy producers in the US courts for harm caused by their past emissions of greenhouse gases. The coastal village had previously been protected from storms by sea ice; however, as a result of climate change, this ice had begun to melt and break up, resulting in serious erosion of the village and a threat to its future. In dismissing the claim, one of the judges stated:

“Kivalina has not met the burden of alleging facts showing Kivalina plausibly can trace their injuries to Appellees. By Kivalina’s own factual allegations, global warming has been occurring for hundreds of years and is the result of a vast multitude of emitters worldwide whose emissions mix quickly, stay in the atmosphere for centuries, and, as a result, are undifferentiated in the global atmosphere.

Further, Kivalina’s allegations of their injury and traceability to Appellees’ activities is not bounded in time. Kivalina does not identify when their injury occurred nor tie it to Appellees’ activities within this vast time frame. Kivalina nevertheless seeks to hold these particular Appellees, out of all the greenhouse gas emitters who ever have emitted greenhouse gases over hundreds of years, liable for their injuries. It is one thing to hold that a State has standing … to challenge the EPA’s failure to regulate greenhouse gas emissions … It is quite another to hold that a private party has standing to pick and choose amongst all the greenhouse gas emitters throughout history to hold liable for millions of dollars in damages.”

One must be wary of reading across from US to German law, but the Peruvian farmer is quite likely to face similar issues. In his favour, unlike Kivalina, the loss is clearly defined, and it is also attributed in a proportionate, evidence-based way, to a single emitter (rather than a medley of 24). However, the burden of establishing a precise causal link between RWE’s historical emissions and the melting of glaciers in Peru is, to say the least, unlikely to be straightforward; nor is establishing the fairness and proportionality of singling out one private emitter from many millions who have been responsible for climate change. On top of that, the claim appears to be for the risk of harm (from future flooding) rather than for existing harm and in many national jurisdictions, it is difficult to sue for this.

Rather than sue in the German courts, one might have expected the Peruvian farmer to have petitioned the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. In 2005, Sheila Watt-Cloutier, Chair of the Inuit Circumpolar Conference famously submitted a petition to the Commission for violations of Inuit human rights resulting from global warming caused by US greenhouse gas emissions. That petition was subsequently rejected. However, the farmer here might well have a stronger case on the basis that the Peruvian government itself should be taking precautionary action against the risks of flooding, including, at a minimum, the creation of effective early warning systems, and that a failure to do so breaches his human rights. That the farmer and his lawyers decided to sue in Germany instead is no doubt due to concerns around climate justice: climate change litigation against countries from the Global South like Peru which have not been responsible for historical climate emissions has much less purchase in justice terms than taking action against a multinational corporation from the North.