Migration, Risk Management and Climate Change: Evidence and Policy Responses

Volume 6 of the series Global Migration Issues pp 213-229


Conclusion: Migration as Adaptation: Conceptual Origins, Recent Developments, and Future Directions

  • Robert McLemanAffiliated withDepartment of Geography & Environmental Studies, Wilfrid Laurier University Email author 

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This chapter traces how migration has increasingly been seen as a form of adaptation to environmental change. Historically, the term ‘adaptation’ was used only to describe adjustments migrants make as they attempt in integrate into receiving areas. The use of the term ‘adaptation’ with respect to migration decision-making and causality arose in the 1990s with the signing of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the reporting activities of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, in which responses to the impacts of climate change are framed in the language of vulnerability and adaptation. Under the UNFCCC’s Cancun Adaptation Framework and National Adaptation Plans for climate change, migration is explicitly identified as a means of adaptation that should be supported where appropriate. At the same time as these policy initiatives were unfolding, researchers independently and through coordinated projects like the UK Foresight study of global environmental migration began developing empirical evidence to support to conceptualization of migration as a form of adaptation. Although now widely accepted by researchers and policymakers, this conceptualization is not without its critics. Framing environmental migration research in terms of adaptation makes research immediately accessible to policymakers, but may at the same time constrain other promising avenues for theoretical development and policy discussion. This chapter offers concluding thoughts on future directions research on this subject may take.


Migration as adaptation Vulnerability Climate adaptation Climate policy Cancun adaptation framework