A Local Solution To Global Warming

Jun 3rd, 2013 | By | Category: Development and Climate Change, Ecosystem Functions, International Agencies, Land, News, Opinion, Rainfall, Vulnerability, Water, Weather
Malé, the Maldives' capital, floods regularly

Malé, the Maldives’ capital, floods regularly

TheForeigner: Putting a label on people does not always explain the problem. If you don’t know, ask.

What does the term “climate change refugee” really mean?

My previous column looked at some of the current science, showing what is and is not known about people moving due to climate change. Significant potential exists for climate migrants in the future, but pinning down climate or climate change as the reason for moving is not straightforward.

Funded by the Norwegian Research Council, we aim to determine how much climate and climate change influence people’s choices to leave or stay. The method is simple: We ask them.

We have picked two low-lying island groups expected to be severely affected by climate change. One is the Maldives, an independent country lying across the equator in the Indian Ocean. The Maldives comprises atolls with the highest point being under 3 metres above sea level. Several communities were destroyed during the 26 December 2004 Indian Ocean tsunamis.

The other is Lakshadweep, belonging to India. These low-lying islands lie north of the Maldives off India’s southwest coast. There are societal and environmental similarities with the Maldives, yielding a good comparison.

With a project team from Norway, India, the U.K., and Canada, we are interviewing people living on these islands to understand their thoughts about migrating or staying. Do they think about moving? Where to? Why or why not?

The data will help to stop speculation on and assumptions about climate change inevitably causing large-scale movements of people.

We might find that few people wish to move, but feel they must due to climate change. We might find that climate change does not factor into decisions to leave, to return, or to stay.

Unfortunately, what people want or expect is not always what happens. We need to be open to the possibility that people do not worry about climate change, but they should be very worried. Or vice versa.

We will, at minimum, better understand how it feels to be labelled a potential “climate change refugee”. We will also know how to best support islanders who choose to migrate or to stay.

Author:  Dr. Ilan Kelman is a Senior Research Fellow at the Center for International Climate and Environmental Research – Oslo (CICERO) and co-directs the Many Strong Voices programme.



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