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The uneven geography of research on “environmental migration”

Abstract

Climate change and environmental hazards affect the entire world, but their interactions with—and consequences on—human migration are unevenly distributed geographically. Research on climate and migration have their own geographies which do not necessarily coincide. This paper critically confronts these two geographies by presenting the first detailed mapping of research in the field of environmentally induced migration. After a brief review of the geography of research on climate change, the paper presents an overview of nearly 50 years of case studies on the basis of CliMig, a bibliographic database of 1193 scientific papers and books on climate/environmental change and migration, among them 463 empirical case studies. We analyze the locations of these case studies, the academic affiliations of their researchers, and the origin of their funding. Mapping the locations of case studies worldwide points toward blind spots in the research and identifies “overstudied” areas. We describe the methodologies used in the studies and present a typology of environmental hazards. Our results show that research on environmental migration is mainly done in countries of the Global South, whereas climate science research in general is focused on countries of the Global North. We contend that the peculiar geography of environmental migration cannot be explained solely by the uneven vulnerability of southern populations to the environment. It must also be understood through the lens of post-colonial and securitization studies as the result of a framing of “environmental refugees” (and refugees in general) as an intrinsically “southern problem” and as a security risk for the North. This paper is an original contribution to the literature on the North-South divide in scientific research and will help to outline future directions of investigation.

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Notes

  1. We presented some preliminary results and hypotheses in (Piguet and Laczko 2014) and in one section of the Atlas of environmental migration (Ionesco, Mokhnacheva, & Gemenne 2016) showing regional overviews and a brief discussion of the geography of research.

  2. The imbalance of climate science on the specific issue of impacts, adaptation, and vulnerability is mapped by the IPCC in the 2014 assessment on the basis of ISI data (IPCC, 2014b: 38).

  3. Pasgaard et al. conducted a bibliometric analysis of 15,000 scientific climate change publications. They show that the publications on climate change generally both concern (i.e. the case study country) and are produced (i.e. the author country) by developed countries and BRICS countries (China, India, and Brazil). Regarding environmental science in general, Karlsson et al. show that more than 80% of papers are published in and about temperate and cold eco-climatic zones and only 13% on sub-tropical and tropical zones, although these eco-climatic zones account for more than 52% of the world’s land area (Karlsson et al. 2007).

  4. Pasgaard et al. tested the impact of mean annual temperatures, low mean annual precipitations, and the fact of being a small island state (SIS) on the number of publications. The correlations revealed negative with the first and last indicator (=more research in colder countries / less research in SIS), insignificant with precipitations.

  5. Migration is defined here in line with the International Organization for Migration as “a move across an international border or within a State away from the habitual place of residence of the migrant, regardless of the person’s legal status; whether the movement is voluntary or involuntary; what the causes for the movement are; or what the length of the stay is” (https://www.iom.int/who-is-a-migrant).

  6. The database is continuously updated, but for the purposes of this paper, the references are counted until 31 December 2016.

  7. A full description and more information about methodological precision and the CliMig database can be found in Appendix 1 or online: https://www.unine.ch/geographie/Migration_and_Climate_Change.

  8. An alternative approach would be to analyze authors’ migration backgrounds, as some authors affiliated in the North are originally from the South; however, collecting such information is extremely complex and was beyond the scope of this project.

  9. Considering the growth of empirical research on the topic, finer methodological categories—as well as evolutions in the use of various methods—can be identified (Fussell et al., 2014; Neumann & Hilderink, 2015). Our broad typology has the advantage of stability and simplicity.

  10. International conference attendance is also often biased toward the North, but conferences organized, for example, by the International Geographical Union (IGU) or the International Association for the Study of Forced Migration (IASFM) attract growing numbers of researchers from the South (see the statistics of the IGU/Beijing Congress 2016: https://igu-online.org/annual-reports/).

  11. The exhaustive CliMig bibliographic base contains 1193 scientific papers and books on climate/environmental change and migration, but Figure 1 dates from 1970 and therefore includes 1187 publications.

  12. The IPCC notes a doubling of the number of publications between 2005 and 2010, whereas our data shows a multiplication by five over the same time span.

  13. For a general discussion on qualitative versus quantitative methodologies see Goertz & Mahoney, 2012. For a discussion of the challenges of quantitative methods in the field of environmental migration see Fussell et al., 2014.

  14. The two first case studies identified in our database were conducted respectively in Brazil (Brooks, 1971) and New Guinea (Waddell, 1975).

  15. In places where such centres do exist, another issue (beyond the scope of this paper) would be to identify how widely their findings are disseminated in international journals, especially English-language ones, which play a dominant role in the international scientific landscape (Clavero, 2011).

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Acknowledgments

We would like to thank Suzy Blondin, Loïc Bruening, Christine Diacon, and Aronne Watkins for their help in maintaining the CliMig database.

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Correspondence to Etienne Piguet.

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This paper was presented at the Hugo conference: http://events.ulg.ac.be/hugo-conference/.

We would like to thank Suzy Blondin, Loïc Bruening, Christine Diacon, and Aronne Watkins for their help in maintaining the CliMig database.

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Piguet, E., Kaenzig, R. & Guélat, J. The uneven geography of research on “environmental migration”. Popul Environ 39, 357–383 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11111-018-0296-4

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Keywords

  • Environmental migration
  • Geography of science
  • Climate change
  • Bibliometric analysis
  • Spatial scientometrics