Environmentally displaced people
Dates: September 2007–present
Donors: MacArthur Foundation
Environmental change is potentially one of the most significant generators of forced displacement. However, we know remarkably little about the interplay between climate change, environmental transformations, stresses on ecological systems, socio-economic vulnerability of lives and livelihoods and potential outcomes in terms of patterns of forced migration. These relationships are often reduced to simplistic causal explanations which deny the complex and multivariate processes – environmental, political, social and economic – at the root of forced migration.
An initial project, led by Professor Roger Zetter and funded by the Swiss Government, the Norwegian Government and UNHCR, called Protecting Environmentally Displaced People: Developing the Capacity of Legal and Normative Frameworks that examined this new category of involuntary migrants for whom there is a significant rights ‘protection gap’ was completed at the end of 2010.
The study investigated the capacity of national-level legal and normative frameworks and regional and international legal apparatus that might apply to displacement in a context of environmental change. These issues were examined in four countries affected by slow-onset climate change conditions – rising sea levels in Bangladesh and Vietnam, and desertification in Kenya and Ghana. Both Kenya and Ghana are particularly susceptible to trans-border migration through environmental change in neighbouring regions.
In April 2011 a new two-year project commenced with the addition of a Senior Research Officer, Dr James Morrissey, and funding from the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation.
This new stage of the research entitled 'Environmentally displaced people: rights, policies and labels', aims to investigate in more detail the conjuncture between environmental stress, population displacement and frameworks of rights protection in the same four countries as the first project and with the addition of Ethiopia.
The particular emphasis of this study will be to complement the national level focus of the first project with a detailed local level analysis of communities and households affected by climate and environmental change.
Activities and impacts
This research has informed several governments’ international development programmes, and further impacts include:
- Informing the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) Principals in New York
- Forming part of the UNHCR High Commissioner’s Dialogue, December 2010
- Presentations to the Geneva Centre for Peace and Security, European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), European Policy Centre, International Centre for Migration Policy Development, joint Anglo-French roundtable Paris, British Embassy, French Development Agency (AFD), French Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs (MAEE), Inter-Agency Standing Committee Forum, 2010
- Contributing to the Experts’ Roundtable of the UNHCR, February 2011
- Informing the European Commission, Experts Consultation on Migration and Climate Change for Commission Communication on Global Approach to Migration, Brussels, May 2011
- Contributing to the Nansen International Conference on Climate Change and Displacement organised by the Norwegian Government, June 2011
- Forming a major focal point of the UNHCR’s 60th anniversary celebration of the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees, 2011
Zetter, R. (2011) 'Protecting Environmentally Displaced People: Developing the capacity of legal and normative frameworks', Research Report, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford. Download the paper (1.10MB PDF)
Zetter, R. (2010) ‘Protecting Environmentally Displaced People: Some conceptual challenges’, in McAdam, J. (ed), Climate Change and Displacement in the Pacific: Multidisciplinary perspectives, Hart Publishing: Oxford, Ch. 7, 131–150
Morissey, J. (2009) 'Environmental Change and Forced Migration: A state of the art review', Background Paper, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford. Download the paper (232KB PDF)
Zetter, R. (2009) 'The role of legal and normative frameworks for the protection of environmentally displaced people', in Laczko, F., and Aghazarm, C. (eds) 'Migration, Environment and Climate Change: Assessing the evidence', International Organisation for Migration, Ch. 8. Download the paper (2.27MB PDF) from the IOM Online Bookstore
Zetter, R., Boano, C., and Morris, T. (2008) 'Environmentally Displaced People: Understanding the linkages between enviornmental change, livelihoods and forced migration', Forced Migration Policy Brief 1, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford. Download the paper (592KB PDF)
Zetter, R. (2008) 'Legal and Normative Frameworks', in Couldrey, M. and Herson, M. (eds) 'Climate Change and Displacement', Forced Migration Review 31, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford. Download the issue (4.05MB PDF) from Forced Migration Review
Morissey, J. (2008) 'Rural-urban migration in Ethiopia', in Couldrey, M. and Herson, M. (eds) 'Climate Change and Displacement', Forced Migration Review 31, Refugee Studies Centre, University of Oxford. Download the issue (4.05MB PDF) from Forced Migration Review
Previous donors include the Swiss government, Norwegian government and UNHCR.