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What is Climate Displacement? 


Climate change displacement is immensely complex topic, conceptually, morally, and practically. Both its study and its responses cross numerous disciplines, and all policymaking, practice, and research involve high degrees of uncerainty. While human displacement is a well establish concept, fully and meaningfully integrating climate change within that work, and of displacement within climate action, remains a cutting-edge, and challenging space.


CDPI believes that to fully grapple with all that climate displacement represents requires a fundamental reimagining, and in some cases a rediscovery, of the patterns of human mobility. Humans have always moved, whether for opportunity or to escape dangers in their immediate environment or seek more amenable environments. In the 21st Century, however, all humans will move, voluntarily and involuntarily, under the shadow of anthropogenic climate change and its innumerable, often insidious, impacts. 

Because of all of this, and especially because of the uncertainty associated with climate change's impacts on human mobility, there are significant debates around the ideal terminology to be used.  There are closely related technical terms which specify if movement is voluntary (migration) or forced (displacement), temporary (evacuation) or protracted (long-term displacement) or permanent (relocation); whether movement is possible (mobility) or not (trapped population). Perhaps most critically, there is immense difficulty in attributing movement to any particular "push" factor.

As the United Kingdom's Government Office for Science laid out in a 2011 project on environmental migration (see diagram below), the causal factors that go into any - but especially a climate-related - mobility decision are numerous.

Conceptual diagram of migration and mobility drivers and decision-making factors in the context of environmental change - from the UK Office of Science (2011).


For the purposes of CDPI’s work, climate displacement, or climate displaced persons, are the preferred terms to encompass what the International Organization for Migration (IOM) otherwise defines as environmental migration, where:

[Climate displaced] people are “persons or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment that adversely affects their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad.”

If you have unanswered questions, check out our resources page!

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