“Bonn Points” is a play on the French phrase for “good point” (les bons points), and the name of the city hosting the EFMSV conference. The idea was initiated by the Scientific Director of EFMSV to capture the answers of the participants to some of the critical questions that require examination during the conference.
In order to streamline the debate on environmental migration, nine questions were formulated and structured in three thematic groups. The following answers are based on feedback from the participants of the conference. Naturally, the almost 300 conference participants from various scientific backgrounds were unlikely to agree on succinct consensus answers to the complex questions. Thus, the answers may sometimes be formulated as provocative statements triggering further thoughts and debate rather than concluding the debates. We hope that the “Bonn Points” effectively distill the spirit of the conference, highlight its findings and indicate “terra incognita” for further research on environmentally induced migration.
In the following, find the "Bonn Points" questions and answers:
Definitions and Conceptualisation
1. What can we call people migrating due to environmental reasons? What if any typology could capture the spectrum of environmentally-related migration, including the severity of the environmental stressor and the urgency of the resulting migration decision?
The conference did not reach consensus but agreed on two inferences: not to use the term “environmental refugee”; and not to get bogged down in endless theoretical debates on definitions at the expense of practical actions that help migrants. UNU-EHS proposed a terminology linking triggers and responses by identifying Environmental Emergency Migrants who flee the worst of an environmental impact to save their lives, Environmentally Forced Migrants who “have to leave” to avoid inevitable and grave consequences of environmental degradation, and Environmentally Motivated Migrants who “may leave” a steadily deteriorating environment to pre-empt the worst.
2. Is it possible to distinguish attribution of migration to interacting factors, such as environmental change and economic and social developments?
Except for the case of fleeing the consequences of swift extreme natural hazard events, the interlinkages between economic, social and environmental factors virtually prevent the disaggregation and attribution of the various reasons which tempt people to move. Ecosystem deteriorations manifest themselves also through declining livelihoods. Thus, environmental migrants frequently claim to leave because of economic reasons but environmental change is an underlying cause.
3. Once the decision to migrate is made, does the stressor - in this case environmental change - matter? In what ways does environmentally induced migration differ from other types of migration?
Once the decision to move has been taken, the “pull factors” attracting migrants to their destinations seem to prevail. However, the severity of the environmental stressors (push factors) may determine how precipitously one leaves. Since it is impossible, except in a few cases, to disentangle the social, economic and environmental factors that lead to migration, it is difficult to make clear distinctions between environmentally induced and other types of migration.
Measurement and Driving Factors
4. What are the environmental “tipping points” that can trigger migration, and when do they occur? How can we measure and predict these tipping points?
There is no environmental tipping point per se, although there is evidence of socio-environmental thresholds. Lack of coping capacities and resilience could trigger displacement. Hence, to define a tipping point, environmental events and the vulnerability of those exposed to them should be looked at simultaneously. A rapid sequence of environmental stresses seems to matter more than facing one single event, no matter how large it is.
5. How can we measure the dependence of livelihoods on environment and ecosystem services, and thereby obtain an idea of people at risk from environmentally-related migration?
Since migration seems to emerge most frequently from the unfavourable interplay of environmental deterioration and the decline of ecosystem-dependent livelihood systems rather than directly from climate change or other environmental stressors, the most suitable and universal methodologies are expert interviews and statistical evaluation of questionnaires capturing the answers of potential migrants and those ‘on the move’. Vulnerability assessment like the Sustainable Livelihood Approach can be useful to identify hotspots for significant outmigration.
6. What are the interactions between poverty, environmental change, and migration? How do poverty and (social) vulnerability affect whether or not migration is a means to cope with environmental change?
A universal answer to this question is unlikely. In many cases, it is poverty alone that triggers migration. In other cases, poverty is the ‘medium’ through which environment affects the migration decision. People are attached to their lands, but they may leave due to livelihood vulnerabilities that are in turn influenced by the environment. If these environmental (livelihood) conditions would improve, they would rather stay. Poverty strongly influences coping capacity and resilience to deal with environmental stressors and cripples the ability to diversify livelihoods. Hence, it may act as the catalyst triggering the wish to leave. Evidence shows, however, that only those who can afford it would move. Poorest people might even be deprived of the option to migrate.
7. Is government initiated/managed/enforced resettlement due to environmental factors classified as environmentally induced migration? Does environmentally induced migration always have to have at least the notion of personal or group decision?
Resettlement is an enforced displacement rather than a choice and thus differs from environmentally induced migration. Experience suggests that if resettlement is to be carried out, it is essential to allow people to develop their own strategies on how they will be resettled. Environmentally induced migration always depends on a decision and most of the evidence indicates that the decisions are made at the household or perhaps community level rather than by individuals alone.
8. What legal instruments could be developed to protect/assist the different categories of environmental migrants?
The majority of conference participants favoured human rights based approaches. The Environmental Emergency Migrants crossing a national border while seeking refuge seem to lack any type of legal recognition and basis for their plea. The participants of the conference agreed that helping alleviate the compelling reasons to migrate would effectively mitigate the need for legal recognition.
9. Presumably all environmental migration starts as internal displacement and the largest portion of this group may remain within the source country. How could recognition and assistance be given to these “hidden” environmentally induced migrants?
Assistance frameworks conceived for internally displaced people may apply, but most effectively this category of people could be best helped through reducing their vulnerability to environmental problems by establishing fair markets, enhancing job diversification, increasing adaptive capacity (e.g. better education, health care, land tenure). Once the people are displaced, assistance and targeted aid are needed to establish with them sustainable and culturally sensitive resettlements and to quickly develop alternative livelihoods.
- The researchers of EACH-FOR are happy to present preliminary findings of 19 case studies. The case studies revealed linkages between environmental degradation and migration. All in all 22 case studies in nine regions have been conducted, where researchers assessed the causes of (forced) migration with a special focus on environmental degradation. This report can be considered a milestone of their work.Learn more about the findings by downloading the Preliminary Findings October
- A declaration was adopted at the Conference on Climate Migrations organised in the European Parliament, Brussels, on June 11th 2008 by the Greens/EFA group. It gathers reports, analysis and possibilities of actions identified during the conference.Read more ...