Key debate: climate change, transboundary water management and migration
In this exercise we’ll discuss how different issues, considered “problems” in popular media today, are interlinked and feed into each other. Ashok Swain has talked about the challenge of transboundary river management, and now we will investigate a related phenomenon that is also strongly related to climate change – migration.
- Grab a pen and paper or something you can write fast on. Nobody but you will read what you’ve written unless you want to.
- Go to Google Images, search for the words ‘climate and migration’ or ‘climate and water’ and pick one image.
- Write down as fast as you can all the thoughts, feelings, associations that come to mind for about 2 minutes.
- Breathe, and share any of your writings or reflections, ideas, thoughts that came out of this exercise in at the Studium page, Twitter or Facebook.
- Changes in water availability and in river flows in a changing climate don’t automatically lead to more conflict, so how could agreements on transboundary water management be a model for conventions in other areas?
- What linkage do you see between climate change and conflicts and migration?
In The Next Great Migration (2020), investigative journalist Sonia Shaw writes that:
If we were to accept migration as integral to life on a dynamic planet with shifting and unevenly distributed resources, there are any number of ways we could proceed… We can turn migration from a crisis into its opposite: the solution. 
You can listen to an interview with Shaw about this book here.
In a long pre-history of the world, the climate has changed many times – cycles of ice ages every hundred thousand years have cooled the planet to the point where northern Europe was covered in ice, and permafrost reached down south of France and Mongolia . Cooling killed off species adapted to temperate climates, so their ranges compressed towards the equator. Following each ice age, these species slowly dispersed towards the poles again, to newly inhabitable regions. Humans ourselves evolved through many migrations, with different groups moving all over the world . Many of us in the past lived nomadic lives, moving with the seasons to graze animals. In a historical and biological perspective, movement is the norm rather than the exception.
Given this context, and recent data on plant and animal ranges, it seems that climate change will see species moving towards the poles and up mountains to stay within liveable temperatures. Increasingly frequent droughts (i.e. water shortages), flooding and storms will drive animals to move to safer habitats. For many species, including humans, migration is a key method of climate adaptation. If migration is understood in this way, rather than as a source of conflict, it becomes a phenomenon to be protected rather than quelled.
What does migration need to be protected from? Since 2015, countries around the world have constructed border barriers and intensified border enforcement and surveillance to prevent “illegal immigrants” from entering North American and European countries. The sketchy definition of “illegal” includes people who are fleeing climate related disasters, because under the 1951 Refugee Convention (which “forms the basis of” the UN refugee agency’s work ), refugees must be forced to leave by conflict or human persecution .
Think about your home region:
- What migration routes exist through or near your area? What borders do they cross? How easy is it to move in and out of the region?
- Refer back to the sea level rise map and climate inspector – how will people move in your area if there is 2 degrees warming?
- How does your government talk about migration? How is it represented in the media you encounter?
© CEMUS and Uppsala University