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Climate change as an impetus for migration

Climate change as an impetus for migration

Benjamin Schraven (PhD) is a social scientist based at the Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik/ German Development Institute (DIE-GDI). Currently, he is engaged in research activities focusing on the link between climate change, migration and other related areas. Today, climate change and migration have become top global agendas. According to available evidences, at the end of 2016, more than 65 million people around the world have become refugees or internally displaced persons (IDPs) with 15 million forcibly displaced by the end of 2013. The mains reason for this increase is the growing intensity of armed conflicts. In a similar vein, social scientists, including Schraven, believe that the effects of climate change will cause an ever bigger global migration crisis of an unprecedented dimension. On the other hand, other experts in the area of migration and climate change perceive migration of millions of people as one way of escaping the increasing and intensifying number of droughts, cyclones, changing rainfall patterns or rising temperatures. A week ago, Schraven paid a visit to a couple of West African nations to monitor climate change and migration that is highly affecting the region. Having concluded his West African trip, he was in Addis Ababa for a brief stay. Before flying back to his home country, Germany, Yonas Abiye of The Reporter sat down with Schraven at the German Embassy in Addis Ababa and discussed issues related to migration and climate change. Excerpts:

The Reporter: In recent years, migration and climate change have become top global agendas. Looking at your bio, your research area focuses on the link between the two. Would you explain what the link between the two critical global issues is?

Benjamin Schraven (PhD): I work as a senior researcher at the German Development Institute. It is a research institute as well as a think-tank. Actually, our work at this institute is not only limited to research or public outreach. We train young Germans and young professionals from major emerging economies on issues of global governance and international cooperation. We are also known for our activities in the areas of policy advisory.

I joined the Institute in 2011 and hence I have spent almost seven years researching. Currently, I am working on migration and related issues. I first started on the linkage between climate change and human mobility which is otherwise best known as migration. In particular, my research includes the root causes of forced displacement and migration governance in West African nations.

Global warming and forced displacement may have common driving causes. Any layman would say that they are caused by natural disasters or are manmade. However, from a scientific perspective, how do you describe the link between the two global challenges?

Today, the effects of climate change can be observed on a global scale. If you look at Africa, for example, the impact of climate change is visible. You can see that it is impacting the eco-system. It has unprecedentedly been changing the pattern of rainfall in the continent. At the same time, there is higher mobility of people due to floods and drought. Actually, it is putting people under pressure. It is also affecting agricultural production. This also includes endangering pastoralist like the ones in the Eastern Africa region.

In that regard, we shouldn’t avoid the particular inter-linkage between climate changes and mobility of people as some kind of a driving force. For example, if the temperature gets hotter or if there are more droughts, then more people would be forced to migrate because of lack of resources. Here we are talking about farmers, pastoralists and fishermen. Many of these people are not capable of moving farther. They do not have the necessary resources. Hence people, who are not able to move at all, are highly affected by these effects of climate change.

There are people who are always on the move as their livelihood depends on nature. When they move, they also adapt to the consequences, like harvest failure and lose of livelihoods. In fact, they are unable to move in their traditional pattern of mobility like in West Africa as well as East Africa.

If we see the growing number of refugees in East and West Africa, political instability or conflict is to blame. Similarly, there are climate change induced factors. But, in your view, which one is the main reason; politics or climate change?

We do not have specific ways to measure which of the factors is the dominant one. It is very difficult to determine. That’s why there are wide range of factors on why people are on the move or why people are displaced. It could be political or economic. Ecology also has a major role here. However, in countries like Somalia, Eritrea or South Sudan political factors politics takes the lion’s share.

Africa is said to have been the victim of global warming over the past two decades and it has been one of the biggest agendas among African and other governments across the globe. That being said, climate change is mainly associated with gas emission and not much with migration. What’s your take on the understandings of governments regarding the link between climate change and human mobility since we usually observe governments being focused on the issue of gas emission?

It goes without saying that there is change in rainfall pattern and agriculture production, which eventually leads to migration. Of course, there are also other factors impacting agriculture production, but climate change plays a very important role in the political discourse. So, if we do not act now, then we will have more concerns with regards to the growing number of refugees. This is not only an African problem; other parts of the world like Europe are also affected by this.

I don’t think the issue is understood well by policymakers and even when people are on the move, because of the effects of climate change, many don’t say that the reason is climate change.

You have been in West African countries like Ghana researching and monitoring the situation on the ground. What practical effects of climate change have you seen so far in regards to migration?

What’s shocking is Europeans and to some extents Africans are oblivious to the effects of climate change. For instance, today, the best known African Savannah is often time experiencing unprecedented changes due to the shift in rainfall patterns. The rainy season is much more unreliable these days. Droughts are becoming commonplace. By the same token, the livelihood of people is being endangered due to heavy rainfall and flooding. You can imagine that all this is affecting local smallholder farmers and their agricultural production. This means that they have serious concerns when it comes to food security.

And since they are facing tremendous challenges, they would be forced to migrate. On the flip side, there are those who can’t to go anywhere and become trapped. There are many people in Africa who do not have the means to go anywhere. These are the people who are hit the hardest by this pattern of climate change which is already in effect. I have noticed this on the ground.

People suffer from the impacts of climate change and are forced to migrate. Many from Africa make it to European nations and the situation is now becoming an issue for host countries and has become a challenge for organizations like to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). However, until recently, several countries in the European Union (EU) have been reluctant in taking actions against mitigating the effects carbon emission. Some say that the Paris Climate Accord heralded success in regards to addressing long standing problems caused by climate change. Do you believe that the existing problem would be well-addressed? And do you believe that world leaders are taking all the necessary actions to address the problem proportionally?

Of course, the question of taking action on global warming was not only promoted by African policymakers. Other activists have been highly involved. Non-governmental Organizations (NGOs) and other groups are engaged in pushing the leaders of Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries to take more actions against climate change and implement the Paris Climate Accord beyond the national level.

Unfortunately, I don’t think that they (leaders of OECD countries) have come to the desired level; I don’t think they would even come to that in the near future. I assume that it will take them 10 to 20 years to start implementing the Paris Climate Accord. That being the case, Europe still continues to experiencing large inflow of climate change-induced refugees. So, to explain the issue from a research perspective, taking action is the one thing that we do not expect to see some time soon; that is unless there is an apocalyptic scenario that would force leader to act.

So what do you think should be the remedy to address the plights of people whom you described as climate change induced-refugees? And also for those who migrate due to political factors?

If you look at the global situation, now, more than 65 million people are internationally displaced or refugees. You can see a clear correlation between armed conflicts and massive influx of forced displacements. So, the key measurement for this problem should be combating the causes of these displacements and it needs investment in crisis prevention. Preventing armed conflicts and prompting peace talks is paramount.

All stakeholders must be involved and that should be taken as the first step towards mitigating the problem. So, by promoting the participation of every stakeholder we can be able to decrease forced displacement.