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19 - Climate change and adaptive human migration: lessons from rural North America

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  31 August 2009

W. Neil Adger
University of East Anglia
Irene Lorenzoni
University of East Anglia
Karen L. O'Brien
Universitetet i Oslo
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When considering human capacity to cope with or adapt to stressful climatic conditions and events, an important consideration is that human populations are not stationary. During periods of climate-related stress, one possible response by members of a vulnerable household is to migrate away from the area at risk (McLeman and Smit, 2006). Currently, the popular discussion of climate change and migration tends to occur around themes of environmental refugees, forced migration and worst-case scenarios of future climate change impacts. While wholesale abandonment of many currently inhabited areas would indeed be a likely outcome in most worst-case scenarios, unless and until worst-case scenarios come to pass, the more likely and immediate outcome is that climate change-related migration will occur as one of a range of possible adaptations taken by exposed populations. It is therefore necessary to consider the ways in which vulnerability to climate change, adaptive capacity, migration and demographic change are connected, and consider where migration is situated within the broader range of adaptation strategies.

This chapter sets out by describing some general conceptual issues regarding the role of migration in the context of climate change adaptation. This is followed by the introduction of specific questions of how migration decisions are reached under conditions of climatic stress, the relative importance of migration vis-à-vis other possible forms of adaptation, and how the movement of households and individuals in and out of exposed regions affects the adaptive capacity of the community as a whole.

Adapting to Climate Change
Thresholds, Values, Governance
, pp. 296 - 310
Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 2009

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