The event brought together participants from over 25 countries and included climate and migration researchers, as well as experts from the field of development cooperation. The conference also produced a declaration, in which the participants called for an official legal status to be established for those people forced to migrate as a result of climate change.
In order for that to happen, though, we would first need a definition that reflected a range of complex considerations. After all, not every extreme weather event is due to climate change. Further, mass migrations are often sparked by the economic repercussions of climate change, whereas the current definition of a refugee is limited to the victims of persecution on the part of the state.
Prof. Jürgen Scheffran, head of the CliSAP working group “Climate Change and Security,” summarizes the problem in brief, namely: “Who should decide whether someone is a climate-induced migrant or an economic migrant?” Questions like this one could pose serious new challenges, e.g. when entire countries are threatened by climate change and the fleeing masses cross international borders. “However, climate-induced migration most often takes place within national borders,” explains Scheffran.
The conference participants also called for more intensive cooperation between the fields of climate and migration research. Historically, there has been little interaction between the two; yet cooperation is necessary if the goal is to translate research findings into actual implementation strategies: “Scientific findings provide an important decision-making basis for politicians,” explains Prof. Maria Máñez Costa, head of the Economics and Policy Department at the Climate Service Center. The more the livelihoods of local communities are threatened, the less they can successfully adapt to the effects of climate change. Instead of responding to threats as they arise, it is more important to strengthen the affected regions in advance – for example, by preparing scientific risk assessments.