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Can voluntary migration help us cope with climate change?


Researchers have suggested that voluntary migration could be one of the means through which we can cope with climate change, the other measure being alternative livelihoods.

Scientists at Universities of Vienna and Graz have published a paper in journal Science wherein they have attempted to identify policies that can be adopted to tackle climate change and have suggested that transformative measures such as alternative livelihoods and voluntary migration are much better ways to tackle climate change instead of forced migration. Further, such measures also enhance the resilience of communities against the impact of climate change.

Impacts of climate change aren’t limited to just a few continents or just land or water, they can be felt across the globe and this is where there is a need for collaborative action. There has been a long standing debate on how to proceed in our fight against climate change and there has been “contentious debate between vulnerable countries and developed nations about the extent of such assistance” and the form that it should take.

Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and Damage saw this debate institutionalised in 2013 and it received further endorsement at the Paris Agreement in 2015; however, the exact remit of loss and damage has not been clarified. They said there is space for countries to come to agreement on the topic and proceed with action.

“Relying on national resources has generally not sufficed to reduce risk sufficiently in these countries, particularly for those in the Pacific, Caribbean and the Indian Ocean, and support from the international community has been required,” the study notes.

Researchers, in the paper, lay out a framework for loss and damage in terms of supporting measures that can help vulnerable people survive, adapt and even become more resilient in the face of irreversible climate change impacts. The first set of options refers to support for curative measures, which deal with un-avoided and unavoidable risks.

“For example, given increasing sea levels induced by climate change, there is need to upgrade coastal protection. Melting glaciers increase the risk of glacial lake outbursts, for which additional protection efforts are required. At high levels of warming, impacts become unavoidable, and people may be forced to migrate, for which international legal protection is essential,” the experts said.

The second set of options refers to the concept of transformative risk management, which means building resilience against climate-related impacts while also realising that people and communities will need support to learn new skills and develop new livelihoods, or even voluntarily migrate to new homes to cope with the impacts of climate change.

“When the water is up to your nose, doing just a little bit more on risk is not enough,” researchers note adding, “Transformative risk management goes beyond traditional risk management. It is about people and enhancing their resilience broadly.”

Implications of these findings will be presented at a side event with negotiators, NGOs and other researchers on November 7 at COP22 in Marrakesh.