Event: Policy Dialogue on Climate Change and Migration


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Background: Environment, Climate Change, Migration and Adaptation

There has always been a fundamental interdependency between migration and the environment, but the reality of climate change adds new complexity to this nexus, while making the need to address it all the more urgent. Both gradual environmental change and extreme environmental events influence population migration patterns but in different ways.

Although extreme environmental events are more likely to result in mass displacement, a larger number of people overall is expected to migrate due to a gradual deterioration of environmental conditions. Gradual environmental degradation, including phenomena such as desertification, reduction of soil fertility, coastal erosion and sea-level rise, which may be associated with climate change, impact existing livelihood patterns and systems of production and may trigger different types of migration.

Migration, especially a mass influx of migrants, can affect the environment in places of destination. In particular, unmanaged urbanization as well as camps and temporary shelters may produce strains on the environment. In places of origin, on the other hand, out-migration may alleviate population and land use pressure, sometimes allowing a degraded local ecosystem to recuperate.

The relationship between environmental and climate change and migration is often complicated by the multifaceted associations with other factors, such as population growth, poverty, governance human security and conflict.

Environmental migration is often portrayed as a failure of adaptation and a worst case scenario. However, while migration can be a manifestation of acute vulnerability, it can also represent a logical and legitimate livelihood diversification and adaptation strategy that has been used for millennia and is likely to be of growing importance in the future. Migration can help reduce risk to lives, livelihoods and ecosystems, contribute to income diversification and enhance overall capacity of households and communities to cope with the adverse effects of environmental and climate change.

Environment, Climate Change and Migration in the Context of Bangladesh

Out-migration has become a common coping mechanism for millions of Bangladeshi’s who have lost their land and livelihoods due to gradual as well as extreme environmental events (desertification, coastal erosion, sea-level rise, as well as floods, and cyclones). Environmentally induced rural to urban migration has resulted in the overpopulation of Bangladesh’s urban centers, most notably Dhaka city. In the city migrants are forced to work in the informal sector as rickshaw pullers, manual laborers, garment and domestic workers, and within the sex-trade. With virtually no housing options migrants settle in makeshift slum communities with inadequate living and sanitary conditions. The overpopulation of Bangladesh’s urban centers posses a human security threat to all city residents irrespective of their socio-economic status.

Reports from the government and implementing agencies indicate that in the aftermath of Cyclone Aila -one of the many recent extreme environmental events which has affected several costal districts- in Koira and Dacope upazilas alone (Khulna District), more than 20,000 families have been displaced on the embankments, and others near roads and collective centers (IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix, February 2010) .

While the Government considers climate change as one of the most important issues for Bangladesh, migration resulting from climate change has not been included in detail in the two most important documents dealing with the issue– the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan and the National Action Plan of Adaptation. Since several studies suggest that climate change (sea level rise, increased frequency and intensity of natural disasters, melting glaciers etc) will displace millions of people in Bangladesh, it is vital that the climate change, displacement and migration nexus is mainstreamed into the government’s policy. IOM and Environment, Climate Change and Migration As the leading inter-governmental organization in the field of migration, IOM addresses linkages between the environment on the one hand and human settlement and population movement on the other hand from a human mobility perspective. In this context, IOM is organizing a Policy Dialogue which, by highlighting recent disasters such as Cyclone Aila, will shed light on some of the challenges of the climate change, environment and migration nexus, in an attempt to contribute to mainstreaming concrete short and long term strategies and approaches in the policy agenda of national and international stakeholders in Bangladesh. The Policy Dialogue will be organized and presented on the occasion of the Anniversary of the Cyclone Aila on the 23rd of May 2010. Parallel to the policy dialogue, a Photo Exhibition on ‘Environment And Migration’, in collaboration with a well known photographer Abir for the European Photo and Press Agency (EPA) is being prepared. The objective of the Policy Dialogue is To contribute to the debate on climate change and migration and to encourage dialogue among government, civil societies and development partners in delineating key issues and potential policy options in Bangladesh

The experts and key stakeholders that will attend the dialogue are expected to explore ways in which migration/population issues can best be reflected in the Bangladesh Climate Change Strategy and Action Plan document. At the same time, recognizing that climate change related issues also have regional and global impacts, the policy dialogue will also look at the human mobility related challenges to be faced in the coming years and at potential options to address them.

The key Outputs of the Policy Dialogue are:

  • Launch the Video Documentary on Climate Change, disasters and migration in the Aila affected areas.
  • A Review of IOM ‘Climate Change and Migration evidence for Action’ master document which assemble all the vital information regarding the climate change, environmental degradation and migration nexus, particularly in the Bangladesh context. This document will set the stage for the policy dialogue, and more importantly will serve as a background document to guide the discussion on potential avenues for inclusion of environmentally-induced migration in the government’s overall migration management policy.
  • Case studies leading to a discussion over potential policy options and strategies involving all interested stakeholders (civil society, development actors, private sector and government representatives).
  • Definition of an agenda for future research, operational projects and policy activities including awareness raising.