Coping with security-oriented “adaptation-relocation” approach through emerging bottom-up, global, subjective, and multi-faceted governance

The coronavirus pandemic raises questions about our ability to mobilize in the face of a collective peril. An emerging (and mediatic) challenge is that of climate degradation, questioning current mobilizations to protect, assist, and compensate its (current and future) victims. Mobilization is “the act of bringing together the things that are needed for a particular purpose” (Oxford dictionary 2020). From a societal point of view: “social mobilization refers specifically toprinciples that can be used to influence a large number of individuals to participate in such activities” (Rogers al 2018). This paper will thus question structures of government and governance that have been put in place in order to handle questions raised individuals affected by disasters and environmental degradations in the context of climate change.

Since its first report in 1990, the IPCC warned about the impacts of climate change on human migration (Gomez 2013), and there have been 22.5 million displaced persons per year since 2008. Some researchers estimate that between 1995 and 2015, 205 million people per year have been affected by climate-related disasters (IDMC 2018); not taking into account the increased frequency of these events (UNISDR 2015); nor people who move due to slow onset effects (Nishimura 2018). At the same time, the debate on climate victims raised political attention notably through the “Climate Refugees” narrative and its subsequent mediatic importance (Gemenne 2015). The issue of climate affected persons is thus a major policy challenge, with debates focused on the “climate-migration” nexus.

Meanwhile, the “climate-migration” interactions are far from being simple, as  » Climate change is the very essence of a “wicked problem (…) not easily categorized (Termeer al 2013). Moreover, population movements are multicausal (Black 2011). If environmental issues can be a determining cause of displacement, they also impact other migration drivers (Rigaud al 2018), in particular economic ones (Adamo 2009), malnutrition, landlessness, unemployment, rapid urbanization, pandemics and government shortcomings; ethnic and more traditional conflicts (Nishimura 2018), sustainability of livelihoods or political stability (Abel, 2019). The question of mobilization regarding environmental mobilities thus questions the capacity of actors to grasp a multi-factorial issue and not a specific dedicated policy.

In temporal terms, although global warming and its consequences on human mobility are a current reality (Trenberth, 2007), climate change continues to be denied by some, including by US President Donald Trump, resulting in the withdrawal of the United States from the Paris Agreement. We can therefore observe a distortion between needs and capacities for action linked to distorted perceptions of climate change. In spatial terms, population displacements linked to climate degradation are mainly intra-regional in Southern regions. There is no evidence suggesting we should expect massive environmental migration into Northern countries (Findlay 2011). In material terms, with regard to protection needs related to climate change, it is now accepted that climate change poses a threat to the right to life, food, health, water, and to the effective enjoyment of civil and political rights in general (Special Rapporteur on human rights and the environment, 2018). It should also be pointed out that ahead of migration, the risks posed may contribute to vulnerability and become a driver of migration or displacement (Black 2013).

Thus, it seems appropriate to ask what actions are being implemented collectively, at the international, intergovernmental, national and sub-national levels, in order to address the issue of persons affected by climate degradation or disasters, presented as the “climate-migration” nexus in debates, and the place devoted to human rights both before and after climate degradation and, where appropriate, the resulting migration.

Focusing on peer-reviewed literature and the author’s professional experience as a lawyer, this discourse analysis on emerging debates, conceptual issues and future pathways analyses mobilizations’ historicity, underlying concepts, interests, pitfalls and perspectives. It suggests that the current security-based and state-oriented governance around the « adaptation-relocation” approach lead the “climate-migration” nexus away from actual needs. Thus, a renewed approach is needed, based on local contexts, on individuals, on addressing degradation and damages to the population and in line with local traditions and knowledge. This call for global governance should be based on a subjective approach, using a bottom-up perspective, and requires the elaboration of a conceptual framework. Thus, it interrogates the coherence of applied governmental structures and, therefore the power of Human Rights as a systemic tool.

  1. From a current security based, and state-oriented governance in an « adaptation-relocation » approach (…)

Analyzing literature, we observe that current responses have focused on an inter-governmental security response with, as consequences, the concept of « migration as adaptation”, leading to “planned relocation » (A); while this security and adaptive perspective must be criticized regarding its practical and conceptual limits (B).

  1. A Current Cooperation and intergovernemental framework organized around the “adaptation-relocation” approach (…)

The question of the impact of environmental factors and of resulting displacement in the occurrence of conflicts emerged in the 1990s as States’ first area of focus in their understanding of environmental mobility (Homer-Dixon, 1991, 1994). Recognized as a factor of conflict, environmental aspects, compared to other variables that contribute to the occurrence of conflict, are even considered by some authors to be of prime importance (Hauge & Ellingsen 1998). Furthermore, migration impacts the traditional (military-oriented) security domain as well as less traditional aspects of security (such as food security) (Faist 2018).

Thus, the issue of environmental degradation and related displacement impacts « security » in two ways. On the one hand, by causing population movements which, upon arrival at their destination or when in transit, raise questions of individual and collective security ; and, on the other hand, by initially contributing to the occurrence of conflict or critical situations leading to migration.

This security aspect has led states to focus on the process of displacement with the aim of managing its terms (Amusan al 2017). In this context, public responses have focused on organizing the relocation of displaced persons in a predictive way, as part of considering migration mainly as an adaptive solution when environmental disasters or slow onset events occurs.

Various agendas and timetables were then set up at the International but also European level to forecast and better manage such displacements.

At the international level, the political area has seen the introduction of dedicated but fragmented instruments. Following the Berne initiative of 2005, the Cancun Adaptation Framework in 2010 invited “all Parties to undertake ‘[m]easures to enhance coordination and cooperation with regard to climate change induced displacement, migration and planned relocation”. Here and there, the notion of planned relocation, meaning: “planning for climate-related displacement”, emerged as the first and sole effective response to the issue of people affected by climate degradation within the framework of inter-state cooperation, through the creation of policy instruments and fragmented discussion platforms. Upon their introduction, mitigation, loss and damage considerations and local-based government approach have remained unimplemented.

This vision was then promoted, and the following framework remains to this day.

Following the UN conference in 2011, the Nansen Initiative Protection Agenda for Cross-Border Displaced Persons in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change was established in 2015. Within this framework, the Platform on Disaster Displacement was launched in 2016 to oversee its implementation.

Within the UNFCCC, the Paris Agreement in 2015 recognizes the link between migration and climate and the Task Force on Displacement established under the Warsaw mechanism began its activities in 2016.

Under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, mentioning migration and migrants (Rhajan & Baghat 2017) ; the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 launched the Global platform for disaster risk reduction.

IOM launched the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration in 2016.

Finally, UNHCR is also working on this issue within the framework of the Global Compact on refugees.

At the same time, from a legal point of view, the problem of people displaced for environmental reasons has not found a unified nor a dedicated response.

Some people may move in the context of conflict or persecution, triggering protection under refugee law (Geneva Convention 1951).

Nevertheless, although the UNHCR recognizes the relationship between human rights and climate change, experts generally agree that there is no possibility for a systemic legal categorization of climate-displaced persons under the Geneva Convention (Cournil, 2012).

Furthermore, environmentally displaced persons do not fit the legal definition of a “stateless person” (Blitz 2011).

Responses at the international level are thus essentially based on inter-state cooperation and split between various instruments with little effective action, and dedicated to the implementation of a « Frameworks » allowing the « planned relocation » of migrants when they are or will be displaced by climate change, in line with the goals of anticipating and preventing conflicts.

At the European level, in legal terms, it is also accepted that the climate-affected persons cannot benefit from specific protection nor categorization within the asylum policy (Sgro 2013).

At the political level, the construction of a coherent policy around the political climate-migration nexus is slow to materialize and remains at the crossroads of several pillars of EU policies and in particular four major ones: migration, climate, security and development (SEC(2011)1353 final  & COM (2013)216 final).

Additionally, while the European Union supported binding adaptation obligations within the Paris Agreement, migration policy continues to focus on “the control of (its) external borders” (European Council conclusions 17-18 March 2016). With regard to climate policy, the EU remains at a stage of reflection and “analysis of the links between vulnerability to climate change and the risks of fragility and insecurity”(Council conclusions 15th February 2016). Lastly, the development dimension appears to have gained impact but seems still focused on “combating the root causes of irregular migration and the phenomenon of displaced persons” (Valletta summit 11-12 November 2015).

 Consequently, there is no dedicated European policy to date, but bits of action in various fragmented Directorate-Generals led by security aspects. In other words, action remains declarative and driven by security goals.

The mobilization of legal instruments is thus more than limited both from a European and international point of view; and political mobilization is split between various agendas and competences, focusing on inter-state cooperation.

Additionally, there is a linearity between the initial security concerns and the “migration as adaptation” approach. A continuum between both approaches, developing “migration as adaptation” while maintaining security objectives underpinned by the states since the 1990s, can thus be observed. This approach is marked by numerous practical and conceptual limitations calling for global reform.

  • (…) Finding practical and conceptual limits

Authors identified practical limitations to the approach of systematic resettlement of people displaced by climate degradations, in addition to conceptual limitations.

Practical limitations include institutional limitations, individual limitations, community needs and wishes, non-linearity of displacement responses and performative effects.

Regarding institutional limitations, climate degradation and the resulting movement of people occurs both within and across borders (Diehl 2018). Thus, the intergovernmental dimension, based on the interplay between states and therefore creating borders as limits in the continuity of the policies implemented, does not seem the most appropriate to provide a coherent response. Moreover, states tend to pursue their own political goals that are disconnected from the needs of local communities (Konisky & Reenock 2018).

In terms of individual limitations, in practice when interviewing displaced people, it can be observed to what extent people themselves have difficulties identifying the determining cause of their migration. This impossibility to point to individuals’ or populations’ migration drivers has been confirmed by the literature (Massey, Axinn & Ghimire 2010). Furthermore, migration decisions cannot be seen as rational choices but are driven by perceptions (Fawcett 1985) as well as by culture or gender (Maternowska al 2008). However, even partly irrational decisions, constitutive of subjective identities, have to be respected as such, even considering the difficulty of populations in matching their long-term and more immediate needs (Arizpe & al 2019).

As for individual and community’s needs and wishes, in reality, people wish to safeguard their capacities for self-determination as a people in their own rights as well as their lands (Randell 2016); and not to move as assumed by the « migration as an adaptation strategy » approach.

Non-linearity of displacement responses can also be observed as long as immobility can affect populations, making them unable to move and become “trapped” by climate change (Zickgraf al. 2016).

Finally, policies have performative effects when, implemented, they are creating insecurity where they are supposed to resolve it ; and planned relocation frameworks can in fact aggravate conflicts (Amusan & al 2017) . In that context, elites tend to overvalue the security dimension of environmental migration to the detriment of other factors of conflict and migration occurrence, not allowing the real causes to be resolved (Selby & al 2017).

These practical limitations thus reveal conceptual pitfalls regarding the safety and adaptation-oriented approach of the migration-climate nexus.

Inequalities in access to and benefit from migration are not considered as in fact, richest people and countries will tend to benefit from migration first and foremost, to the detriment of the poorest ones (Rajhan & Baghat 2017).

Furthermore, the subjectivity of the people is denied (Clark & Bettini 2017), even though we now know that the success of planned relocation will depend on the importance given to individual decisions, as well as the benefits for the community (Hino & al 2017).

Neo-liberal tendencies are driving policies, using “migration as adaptation” as a tool of power and interpreting it in a way that justifies them; and shifting the responsibility to deal with climate change from the collective (state) to the individual (migrants themselves) (Felli & Castree 2012). Additionally, this “migration as adaptation” approach is dominant in places of power, leaving little political space for contradiction and, therefore, for the emergence of alternative solutions (Ji 2019).

Finally, we can observe artificial distortions in considering similar vulnerabilities. Migration in the context of climate change can be seen as interplays of cultural, economic, social, environmental processes (…) in relationship to human vulnerability (…) socio-economic inequality, and the capability of people to pursue their chosen livelihoods (Obokata, Veronis & Mc Leman, 2014). In consequences, authors argue that vulnerabilities leading to environmental displacement or immobility cannot be strictly isolated, in nature nor in structure, from other categories of migrants or non-migrants. Therefore, there is no reason to govern them in a specific way (Mayer 2015).

Thus, among questionable foundations, the “adaptation-relocation” approach globally ignores the desires and capacities of individuals and populations, leading not only to the failure of the policies implemented, but also to the aggravation of conflicts and other migration factors; producing an effect that is the opposite of the initial objective of the response.

In conclusion, analyzing mobilizations related to persons affected by climate change, it could be stated that “migration as adaptation” approach, which can be seen as a continuum of the state-security concerns, steers the “climate-migration” debateawayfrom the real needs.

This brings us to the second part of this paper, which analyzes the solutions emerging in practice and in the literature.

  1. (…) To a subjective, bottom-up and multi-stakeholder mobilization which conceptual framework remain under construction

If litigation can mark a “governance gap”, or a failure in other institutions to address a problem (Vanhala 2013), then it is relevant to analyze the legal recourses and more generally the sources of social mobilization in order to draw some lessons (A). The latte invites us to rethink action in a multi-stakeholder and multi-level manner, beyond an intergovernmental model, in order to complement the current concepts with elements coming from the communities themselves in a « bottom-up » perspective (B).

  1. Social and legal mobilization indicating Governance Gaps (…)

In response to the failures of state governance structures, several forms of social and societal mobilization have emerged.

Individual mobilizations, including migrants themselves organizing into networks, communities have been carried out, then creating interactions and alliances with other actors in order, ultimately, to gain political power (Ustubici 2016). This individual and local level is particularly relevant when we know that it allows for more reactive responses after an environmental disaster (Carrico & Donato 2019).

Moreover, the regional to local level is a more effective way of considering individual and collective needs than other networks (Oakes 2015).

These individual and local mobilizations and the demand for recognition of these levels of governance have also led to an increasing judicial mobilization (Conant al 2018). Setting aside the question of whether these cases are successful or not, this legal enforcement contributes to the visibility of these issues by the populations, and the importance of Human Rights as an effective tool (Marshall & Sterett 2019).

In addition, sub-state entities have gained political power, allowing them to influence effectively foreign policy issues (Oikonomou 2018).

These social and legal mobilizations, arising in reaction to governmental and political mobilization, point to, but also try to make up for its gaps.

This is the reason why, from their analysis and teaching, we can draw some avenues of reflection for renewing inclusive and comprehensive governance on the climate-security nexus related to displacement.

  • (…) Calling for renewal based on local communities in a « bottom-up » system, which conceptual and material framework under construction

The abovementioned facts and literature highlight the risks of not considering the individual desires and needs of communities displaced by climate change. Indeed, policies can have an opposite effect than what they were initially set for. At the same time, we are witnessing the emergence of a proteoform local and community mobilization on these immediate issues. Thus, the local and collective level is demonstrating its capacity to raise an essential need and translate it into political terms by creating power alliances and relations. They draw a civil, spontaneous, informal framework more able to listen and consider effective needs than traditional governance ones.

Spatially and politically speaking, the field thus gives us indications for reinventing action. According to authors “this is crucial to recognize the community-based organizing that is already happening” (Sheller 2018). In fact, local populations develop adaptation strategies on a case by case basis, making them able to create innovative, unpredictable and holistic solutions on specific knowledge, values and beliefs (Polacios 2015). Thus, populations are more resilient that top-down perspectives can expect, developing such resilience in a continuum, coping with climate degradation or adapting by migrating (or through other ways) when necessary.

Therefore, it could be accepted that no prediction can be made, nor must be, with regards to the adaptation and migration strategies of populations facing climate degradation. This is the reason why, not only in the implementation of policies, it seems necessary to base overall governance at the micro-level, letting them appear as close as possible to individuals and their needs, whether there are local, regional or global (Arizpe 2019). In that scope, global governance cannot be seen under a security lens, where plans would need to be strictly followed. This does not draw uniform actors and responses, but plural entities and responses inclusive of civil society.

Temporally, “migration as adaptation” only focus on the second temporality within climate change challenges including mitigation (1), adaptation (2) and treatment in policy responses (3). As the above literature suggests, priority should remain at the level of mitigation as individuals and communities do not wish to leave their lands, together with building their capacities such as to implement their own knowledge, traditions, and interactions and create appropriate and resilient responses when facing climate degradations or disasters.

Moreover, the vision of migration as adaptation tends to omit that people, when having to migrate or being trapped in the context of climate change, generally have experienced series of violations of their rights to property, to a healthy environment, to the autonomy of their communities, etc. This omission implies a reflexion on the responsibilities stemming from these damages, which is why it is essential that global governance also focuses on the compensation of people, especially as people increasingly seize legal tools, and mobilize human rights, on climate-migration related issues (Marshall & Sterett 2019).

At this stage, it is appropriate to consider the proposal of some authors to integrate the concept of Translocal social resilience as complements to the current approach (Sakdapolrak et al 2016). It is thus suggested to set up a “critical analytical framework” which could provide evidence for policy makers based on the social practices of mobile and immobile actors, social construction of human-environment relationships, and the translocal connectedness in a “practice-based understanding”approach. It allows to reintegrate local specificities, social interactions and individual aspirations as well as community ones into the construction of governance mechanisms.

Meanwhile, contributing to the “migration as adaptation” narrative, this approach does not allow to cope with all limitations identified.

Personally and spatially, while taking into account individual local traditions, vulnerabilities and desires, it is unclear to what extent the action related to the “translocal social resilience” concept is driven by the local communities while decision-making remains understood in an top-down vision handled by policy-makers.

Temporally, enforcing mitigation as a first responsibility, and responding collectively to loss and damages that create vulnerability ultimately leading to migration does not fit into the “migration as adaptation” narrative as they are structurally distinct within political instruments ; and this Translocal social resilience approach does not address such limitation.

Materially, this reflection remains part of a specific conception of climate-related migration, whereas people themselves do not identify it as such, creating an artificial distinction, and complexifying the debate about people’s vulnerability and respect for their rights.

Structurally, it thus does not appear to be able to implement the necessary dispossession of solutions by the traditional governance structures to which it is called, nor to think of the interactions between formal and informal forms of government.

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