The report explores how environmental shocks and stresses, especially those related to climate change, can push people to leave their homes in search of “greener pastures” or just to survive. In order to make informed decisions, policymakers and development actors need a better understanding of the linkages between environmental change, displacement and migration.
The study looks at natural disasters and forced displacement in the context of climate change. It has two aims: firstly, to provide an estimate of forced displacement related to disasters in 2008, specifically climate-related disasters; and secondly, to propose a methodology that could be applied to monitor disaster-related displacement on an ongoing basis.
The effects of climate change will cause large-scale human displacement. We are engaged in a project which seeks to address the problem of climate change displacement. The focus of our project is a proposal for a convention for persons displaced by climate change.
As a result of unprecedented warming trends due to climate change, several indigenous coastal villages in Alaska are actively trying to find out where they could move entire communities, due to erosion caused by the thawing of permafrost and large waves slamming against the west and northern shores of Alaska. More than 80% of Alaskan communities, comprised mostly of indigenous peoples, are identified as vulnerable to either coastal or river erosion.
The Arctic regions of Alaska, Canada, Greenland, northern Scandinavia and Siberia are homelands for a diverse number of Indigenous Peoples who live on the resources of land and sea under some of the harshest conditions on Earth. The indigenous populations range from 80% in Greenland to as little as 3-4% in Arctic Russia. Settlements vary from a few large industrialized cities to numerous small nomadic communities following a traditional lifestyle.
The circumpolar north is now experiencing some of Earth’s most rapid and severe climate change. According to IPCC AR4 predictions, the Arctic is very likely to warm during this century more than the global mean. Warming is projected to be largest in winter and smallest in summer. Annual arctic precipitation is very likely to increase, and it is very likely that the relative precipitation increase will be largest in winter and smallest in summer. Arctic sea ice is very likely to decrease in its extent and thickness. Indigenous Peoples, their culture and the whole ecosystem that they interact with is very much dependent on the cold and the extreme physical conditions of the Arctic region. However, in the past few decades, the average Arctic temperature has increased twice as much as the global temperature.
The Arctic region currently implements several strong regional assessment processes that place a high value on the input of Indigenous Peoples, such as the Arctic Climate Impact Assessment. According to Indigenous Peoples observations, sea ice is less stable, unusual weather patterns are occurring, vegetation cover is changing, and particular animals are no longer found in traditional hunting areas. Local landscapes, seascapes and icescapes are becoming unfamiliar. Peoples across the Arctic region report changes in the timing, length and character of the seasons, including more rain in autumn and winter and more extreme heat in summer. Coastal indigenous communities are severely threatened by storm-related erosion due to melting sea ice. In several Alaskan villages (e.g. Shishmaref), entire indigenous communities are having to relocate due to thawing permafrost and coastal erosion. Sea ice melting and longer summers also create other changes that impact Arctic communities, such as increased accessibility of the Arctic regions for human development and other activities.
Galloway McLean, Kirsty (2009)
Advance Guard: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, Mitigation and Indigenous Peoples: A Compendium of Case Studies.
United Nations University - Traditional Knowledge Initiative, Darwin, Australia.
ISBN: 978-0-9807084-4-8 (print)
Copyright (c) 2009 UNU-IAS
All rights reserved
UNU-IAS Traditional Knowledge Initiative
Building 1, Level 3, Red Precinct
Charles Darwin University Casuarina Campus
Darwin, NT 0909
Advance Guard Details:
This case study was extracted from the UNU Advance Guard: Climate Change Impacts, Adaptation, Mitigation and Indigenous Peoples Compendium of Case Studies. The compendium presents a wide-ranging overview of more than 400 projects, case studies and research activities specifically related to climate change and Indigenous Peoples. It provides a sketch of the climate and environmental changes, local observations and impacts being felt by communities in different regions, and outlines various adaptation and mitigation strategies that are currently being implemented by Indigenous Peoples – the world’s “advance guard” of climate change – as they use their traditional knowledge and survival skills to trial adaptive responses to change.
Indigenous Peoples from all regions of the world have an identity and culture that depends upon the natural environment. Their rich and detailed traditional knowledge reflects and embodies a cultural and spiritual relationship with the land, ocean and wildlife. However, as human activity is changing the world’s climate it alters the natural environment to which Indigenous Peoples are so closely attached and on which they so heavily rely. Reflecting their role as environmental stewards of the environment and drawing upon their traditional knowledge, Indigenous Peoples are at the vanguard of climate change. They have been among the first communities to actively engage with the impacts of climate change – through recording their observations of changes in the climate and its effect on the natural environment, through reaction to actions being taken by other countries to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (‘mitigation’), and through implementing their own activities to adjust to ongoing and potential effects of climate change (‘adaptation’).
Entries in this compendium have been drawn following a review of major international reports and organisations, as well as both local and global assessments on the impact of climate change on Indigenous Peoples and their ways of life, case study databases, meeting reports, studies and reviews, web resources, and other reports. Where appropriate, this was supplemented by direct communication with indigenous organisations reporting on-the-ground impacts. Whilst the compendium does not claim to provide an exhaustive list of ongoing activities related to climate change and Indigenous Peoples, it does contain a representative and illustrative survey of current effects and adaptive responses.
Selection of projects and case studies for inclusion Selection criteria:
(a) Relevance to climate change
(b) Relevance to Indigenous Peoples
The report Climate Changed: People Displaced, explores who are affected by climate related displacement, and how they are assisted and protected, when displaced within the borders of their own country or across borders.
This paper presents evidence and outlines the linkages between climate change and migration/displacement. Noting that: "Although there is not a mono-causal relation between climate change, disasters, displacement and migration, the existence of a clear link between the phenomena is increasingly recognised. This paper presents some initial empirical findings in relation to this link, focusing on two African countries: Somalia and Burundi" (Kolmannskog, 2009).