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Symposium 2010

Proposal - Preparing for Environmental Migration

The Challenge

Over the coming decades, tens of millions will  ace serious degradation of their natural  environments and find their livelihoods  threatened. Migration—both within countries and across national ...

Over the coming decades, tens of millions will  ace serious degradation of their natural  environments and find their livelihoods  threatened. Migration—both within countries and across national borders—is one way in which individuals will respond. At the same time, environmental  hange and migration are both multi-faceted.

The extent of environmental migration will depend on how successful global and national policies to mitigate environmental degradation will be and whether individuals, households, and communities in affected areas can adapt their economic activities to changing environmental conditions. Therefore, new global rules for environmental migration should be combined with adequate incentives for mitigation and adaptation.

Solutions will likely be based on the following considerations, among others:

  • A large proportion of the global environmental degradation will occur in developing countries with severely limited resources for mitigation, adaptation, and resettlement of migrants within their borders. International donor support will therefore be crucial. Conceivably, transfers from high-emission to low-emission countries under a future follow-up agreement to the Kyoto Protocol could be earmarked for these purposes.
  • For (the relatively few) people in areas where human survival is becoming infeasible due to environmental degradation, a legal status of "environemental refugee", broadly similar to the status of refugee from persecution, should be defined. Provisions for international support for these refugees and for their resettlement should take into account that, while persecution may end due to a change in the political regime, environmental degradation is mostly permanent. Therefore, environmental refugees should bequickly be resettled permanently.
  • When resettlement is not feasible within the country of origin, even with international support, the search for permanent host countries should give prioritiy to areas where employment opportunities will allow former environmental refugees to become self-sufficient quickly. These are likely to include high-income industrialized countries.
  • Where the carrying capacity of ecosystems is reduced but not eliminated, the growing scarcity of agricultural land will require a shift in the structure of output away from agriculture towards industry or tradable services. While development aid has not been successful generally in accelerating economic growth, donor support may be helpful for specific purposes, such as infrastructure investment.
  • To facilitate adjustment and diversify income sources at the household level, additional opportunities should be created for temporary labor migration to high-income countries. These should benefit primarily the residents of areas that bear a particularly heavy burden of adjustment to climate change. Countries that contribute disproportionately to climate change through high emissions should accept a larger number of environmental migrants.
  • Charter cities can play a positive role in promoting structural change and the growth of industry and tradable services in developing countries as well as in resettling environmental refugees.

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