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People on the Move: Reporting on Migration, Mobility and Displacement in the Age of Climate Change

People stranded in the flood of Bihar.

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Last year, at least 7.9 million people in Pakistan were displaced due to climate-driven flooding. Another 20.6 million needed humanitarian assistance and over 1,700 lost their lives. That’s just one example among many of a climate-driven disaster causing immediate harm to people and infrastructure in one country. But there are also longer-term dangers that can slowly destabilize societies and economies.  

Rising sea levels, for example, are causing coastal erosion in many parts of the world, resulting in the loss of land and freshwater. Degrading marine and coastal ecosystems threatens the physical, economic and food security of affected local communities, which has direct and indirect impacts on their decision or necessity to migrate. Over the past 30 years, the number of people living in coastal areas who are at high risk of rising sea levels has increased from 160 million to 260 million. And 90% of those are from low- and middle-income countries and small island states. 

Mobility and migration have always been a part of human history — but today, more people than ever before live outside of the country where they were born, according to the United Nations.  

Today, an annual average of 21.5 million people since 2008 are leaving their homes for reasons related to the impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, according to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). From sea level rise and erosion to floods, storms and wildfires, many communities are migrating due to livelihood loss, food insecurity and/or inaccessible health care — some by choice, but others are forced out of their homes with no recourse.  

While climate migration — the term used to define migrants who leave their homes due to the impacts of climate change — is not new, the term has come into popular use in the last few years. Most notably, the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development now incorporates migration as a component of sustainable development and it makes an appearance in 11 out of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

Migrants and policymakers need information and solutions to ensure movement is a safe and accessible choice, both while people are on the move and when they reach their destination. Journalists have a major role to play in shifting how communities, policymakers and other stakeholders think about and plan for migration. 

In this tipsheet, which aggregates material from EJN’s 2022 webinar on climate migration as well as from a variety of experts and primary sources, journalists will learn the basics of climate migration: We’ll take a closer look at the impacts on coastal communities; dive into common mobility myths and how to bust them; and learn how to take a nuanced approach when covering climate-related mobility and migration.  

Migrant workers, stranded in Ahmedabad, India during the lockdown, waiting to board a train for their home state of Uttar Pradesh in May 2020 / Credit: Reuters.
Migrant workers, stranded in Ahmedabad, India during the lockdown, waiting to board a train for their home state of Uttar Pradesh in May 2020 / Credit: Reuters.

 

The basics of climate migration 

Useful definitions 

Mobility: the potential for movement and the ability to get from one place to another. 

Migrant: an umbrella term, not defined under international law, to describe a person who moves away from their usual place of residence, either within a country or across an international border, temporarily or permanently, for a variety of reasons. 

Climate-driven migration: the movement of a person or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment due to climate change, are obliged to leave their habitual place of residence, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, within a state or across an international border. 

Refugee: a legally defined and protected term referring to people who have fled war, violence, conflict or persecution and have crossed an international border to find safety in another country (UNHCR). Note that while the phrase “climate refugee” is commonly used, climate change is not included in the 1951 Refugee Convention and is not a protected reason to seek refugee status. 

Displacement: a particular form of migration in which individuals are forced to move against their will usually as a result of or in order to avoid the effects of armed conflict, situations of generalized violence, violations of human rights or natural or human-made disasters. 

Internal displacement: the forced migration of individuals within their country of origin. These individuals are often referred to as internally displaced persons, or IDPs.  

Immigration: refers to migrants who arrive from other countries.  

Emigration: refers to migrants who move to other countries. 

Planned relocation: formerly known as ‘managed retreat’ — refers to a process where people are given the resources to move, settle in a new location and rebuild their lives. 

Tip: Journalists can bring nuance into their work by paying attention to the language they’re using when discussing the movement of people around the world. How can you choose which word to use in your reporting, and ensure your stories are free of unwanted bias and/or shades of xenophobia? Could terms like migration, displacement, refugees, and more be better defined and explained to your audience? How could an increased understanding of the differences between these movement types lead to better information about mobility? 
 
Resource: Read more about key terms relevant to climate change and displacement in this factsheet from the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Cross Crescent Societies (IFRC). 
: A chart demonstrating the many different types of human mobility / Credit: IFRC.
A chart demonstrating the many different types of human mobility / Credit: IFRC.
 
Mobility and climate migration 

Manuel Marques Pereira, IOM’s Head of Division for Migration, Climate Change, Environment and Risk Reduction, spoke at EJN’s September 2022 webinar about climate migration and the organization’s efforts. He explained that it’s not just about forced migration or displacement — IOM also wants to develop policies and guidance for people who choose to move. 

“There’s a lot of misconceptions about human mobility in the context of disasters, climate change and environmental degradation,” Pereira said. “This is still a challenge — how we present mobility and the right to choose mobility in a positive way.” 

Decisions around mobility and climate migration are multi-causal, he continued, meaning they have multiple, often intersecting causes. Social, political, economic, demographic and other factors play a role in why (or whether) someone chooses to move, including where they go, how they get there and the rights available at their destination.  

Climate change is referred to as a risk multiplier — meaning when it combines with other causes of migration, it drastically increases the risks people face and the stressors they encounter. 

“Climate change impacts… exacerbate other causes of forced, involuntary migration,” Pereira said. He also added that while it’s not the only risk multiplier when talking about migration, “climate change is the most striking and most important of these multipliers.” 

An eroded beach in Santa Marta, Colombia. The water now reaches the wall of a nearby house / Credit: Sergio Silva Numa.
An eroded beach in Santa Marta, Colombia. The water now reaches the wall of a nearby house / Credit: Sergio Silva Numa.  
 
Parameters of mobility 

Just as climate impacts vary across communities, countries and regions, migration does not look the same everywhere. It can be temporary, seasonal or permanent; it can be forced or voluntary; it can be in proximity to communities’ local area or at a larger distance, including across states, provinces or even international borders; and more.  

Global figures on migration are useful for journalists looking to provide the big picture on an extremely complex issue — but those numbers don’t take into account these varied types of migration and their social, cultural, economic and environmental impacts on local communities, both the ones losing residents and the ones receiving them. Here are four examples of migration demonstrating the different parameters of mobility around the world: 

  • In communities in Bangladesh’s Sundarbans region, residents are regularly evacuated to storm shelters. But they return to destroyed homes, ruined fishing boats and agricultural land that is too saline for cultivation. Without a home or livelihood, they face permanent displacement.  
  • In Louisiana’s Mississippi River Delta communities, in an example shared by Environmental Defense Fund’s Liz Russell in our webinar, residents who have chosen to leave move one or two towns up the highway, while residents without the resources to move contend with fewer social services because of the decreased population.
  • In Kenya, pastoralist communities maintain herds with drought-resistant species of livestock and remain mobile as coping mechanisms for drought. Yet, as climate change accelerates, pastoralists are migrating to urban centers and coming into conflict with agricultural communities.  
  • In Latin American countries like Panama, Nicaragua, Bolivia, Peru and Ecuador, migrant workers travel during harvest season to other countries including Argentina and Costa Rica. Yet these workers often face health hazards and other exploitative labor practices, and the sector is also at risk as climate change alters crop growing seasons and freshwater availability.  

We’ll dive into more examples like this — and how journalists can best cover them — later in the tipsheet.  

An area of the Sundarbans in India where 227 hectares of agricultural land has been lost across 14 villages / Credit: Nidhi Jamwal.
An area of the Sundarbans in India where 227 hectares of agricultural land has been lost across 14 villages / Credit: Nidhi Jamwal.

 

Understanding the data

Internal displacement reached an all-time high in 2022, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, with 60.9 million internal displacements worldwide. 32.6 million (more than half) of these were due to disasters such as landslides, storms, floods, droughts and wildfires. As of December 31, 2022, the IDMC estimated that 8.7 million people were internally displaced as a result of these disasters.

a graph of countries and territories most affected by internal displacements
An infographic from the IDMC revealing the countries and territories who experienced the highest number of internal displacements due to disasters / Credit: IDMC.

 

In the IDMC’s Global Report on Internal Displacement, or GRID 2023 report, Pakistan was an outlier: 25% of global disaster displacements were the result of the country's devastating 2022 floods. Meanwhile, 1.1 million movements took place in Somalia as the region's drought — the worst in 40 years — continues to affect food security and livelihoods. These are only two stories from a report that highlights many displacements around the world. What story does the data tell about your country or region?

For journalists using this data to inform their reporting, it’s important to understand how to read reports like which is released every year. The GRID report differentiates between the number of internal displacements and internally displaced persons, or IDPs. Internal displacements refer to the number of people who were internally displaced in that calendar year, whereas the number of IDPs is a cumulative figure, referring to the number of people currently internally displaced at the end of that calendar year, regardless of when they initially became displaced. 

A chart from the IDMC explaining how these two numbers relate to each other / Credit: IDMC.
A chart from the IDMC explaining how these two numbers relate to each other / Credit: IDMC.

 

But that’s not the full picture: Storms and other disasters displace massive numbers of people every year and what those people do after the storm is incredibly hard to track. “How these people stay displaced or return home or move somewhere is a much more complex number to get because it’s very difficult to track at an individual level,” Pereira said. For example, while 8.7 million people remained internally displaced at the end of 2022 due to disaster events, more than 62 million remained displaced due to conflict and violence. What does this tell you? Potentially, it could mean that those displaced due to disasters are more often able to return home afterward. 

And it’s also important to be careful with predictions: “800 million people are expected to be living in urban areas that will be affected by sea level rise by 2050,” Pereira said. “We have to be careful with the numbers — I told you that 800 million people are expected to be at risk due to sea level rise, [but] this does not mean that these people will be displaced. It means they are at risk if we don’t do anything.” Being aware of these distinctions is crucial to accurate reporting. 

Along with understanding how to read internal displacement figures, it is important to be aware that the IDMC’s report includes disasters that are not necessarily attributable to climate change, such as earthquakes or volcanic eruptions. And, it may not take into account slow onset impacts that also affect displacement and mobility, such as sea level rise, erosion, food insecurity and livelihood loss. Ultimately, the IDMC and international organizations know that their report is undercounting — an important detail for journalists reporting on migration to not overlook. 

There are also some important regional considerations in the IDMC report. While displacements in Africa and the Middle East are predominantly because of conflict and violence, displacements in Asia, the Pacific and Latin America are mostly from disasters.  

Tip: If you’re a journalist in a country where violence and conflict is the primary cause of displacement, your policymakers might lack the bandwidth to develop preventative measures, solutions and resources for those displaced by disasters. How can your reporting shed light on these issues and explore possible next steps? For journalists in countries where disasters cause the majority of displacements, are your policymakers aware of this statistic? How are they working to find solutions?  
 
Resource: Read the full IDMC 2023 report here, and access more helpful materials on the IDMC website.
Emereoke, a village in the Niger Delta, suffering from severe coastal erosion. This area used to be a playground and is now only accessible by boat / Credit: Justice Nwafor.
Emereoke, a village in the Niger Delta, suffering from severe coastal erosion. This area used to be a playground and is now only accessible by boat / Credit: Justice Nwafor.

 

Where are we now?

In December 2018, UN member states met in Marrakech, Morocco, for an intergovernmental negotiating conference on migration. The resulting agreement — the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration — was not legally binding. It was designed to protect countries’ rights to determine their own national migration policies while also providing a pathway for international collaboration. 

The compact has 23 objectives, which include items like collecting accurate data, minimizing the drivers of forced migration, providing accurate and timely information to migrants at all stages, combatting trafficking and smuggling of vulnerable migrants and more.  

In the agreement, climate change is mentioned several times, including as an “adverse driver” that has forced people to leave their homes. The compact specifies many types of environmental degradation that could lead to forced migration, including desertification, sea level rise and drought. It also addresses the importance of solutions like planned relocation and visa options when adaptation or staying in their home country is no longer an option.  

Story idea: What are your country’s national migration policies? How did the government respond to the most recent climate-driven migration in your region, and what opportunities for improvement or preparedness did that reveal? Has your country implemented the recommendations laid out in the Global Compact?  
 

Myth busting  

International discussion around how to accommodate climate migrants often centers around a myth: “Internationally, [there] is a misconception that large numbers of people will migrate too far from the areas of their current residence,” Pereira said. But “we need to debunk together this common narrative that climate change will lead to large numbers of migrants crossing borders. We have no direct proof that that will be the case.”  

The evidence points to highly local or regional migration, Pereira said. This is often because many people don’t have the resources to travel long distances or participate in complicated visa processes, and they don’t want to leave their homes. 

There are other misconceptions about migration, too, including the idea that migrants move from low- and middle-income countries to higher-income ones. Yet migration occurs within high- and low-income countries, between high-income countries, between low-income countries and from high-income to lower-income, as evidenced by the many examples in this tipsheet. 

People do migrate internationally as a result of climate change and other factors. However, when they do, the law has often not been on their side. In a notable case from 2015, subsistence farmer and Kiribati national Ioane Teitiota applied for asylum in New Zealand, arguing that the effects of climate change had made the island he lived on uninhabitable for its residents on multiple fronts. These included violent land disputes, reduced freshwater availability and the loss of livelihoods due to environmental degradation. His application was denied, and he was deported.  

The historic case made its way to the UN Human Rights Committee, and in a landmark decision in early 2020, the committee ruled “that countries may not deport individuals who face climate change-induced conditions that violate the right to life,” according to a press release from January 21, 2020. It marked the first time the committee had ruled on an individual climate change-related asylum complaint and paved the way for climate migrants to be considered under international refugee law. 

Newly planted mangrove shoots on the island of Tarawa, an atoll in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.
Mangrove restoration efforts to boost resilience on the island of Tarawa, an atoll in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati / Credit: Eskinder Debebe for UN Photo.

Story idea: How the UN Human Rights Committee’s decision could affect the way countries treat climate migrants is yet to be seen, but it yields an interesting story idea for journalists, especially those in countries that often receive refugees: What laws govern refugees or migrants in your country? How could this ruling change the way your government views climate migrants and the processes in place to receive them?  
 

Solutions: Climate migration as coastal resilience 

Across the board, Pereira says it’s important to understand that solutions to help people who choose to stay, people who are on the move and people who have arrived at a new home don’t necessarily change based on why they moved. Understanding the drivers of mobility, especially forced migration, is valuable, but it shouldn’t be the only focus. 

“The challenges of migration by climate, or migration by livelihood opportunities — they are not very different,” Pereira said. “People need information, they need safe pathways to have that mobility, and the assurance that that movement is safe, and they are protected from the moment they depart to the moment they arrive. This applies to any kind of mobility.” 

So, what do these solutions look like, who are they for and how can they be implemented effectively? And, how can journalists hold their country’s policymakers accountable for implementing these solutions in a robust, evidence-based way? Keep reading to find out. 

“Mobility is natural. Mobility can be positive, if well-informed and if voluntary,” Pereira said. “Migration can also be a solution to cope with these changes in the environment — this is why it’s essential to develop solutions for people to move and people on the move.” 

What does climate migration as resilience look like? In the Pacific, for example, an IOM program designed to enhance the protection and empowerment of migrants is working to build a regional framework by and for communities. The framework includes labor mobility schemes, where migrants can easily move in the region knowing livelihood opportunities will be available to them when they arrive.  

Making mobility a part of coastal resilience is also about providing for people’s human rights, said Ritu Bharadwaj, a principal researcher on climate change at the International Institute for Environment and Development. As a speaker at our September 2022 webinar, she highlighted the need for social safety nets to move with people as they travel.  

“The way social safety nets are designed, they remain with them as long as they are in the native village,” she explained. “Those safety nets are not portable… that’s why it has to be more rights-based. The moment you’re leaving one state to another state, one city to another city, you’re not covered by any social protection.” 

Pereira also highlighted that when the situation is critical and there is no more adaptive capacity — adaptation is no longer an option — planned relocation is an important next step.  

In reality, planned relocation can happen in many different ways. Here are a few examples: 

  • A plan from California, United States in 2021 involved cities borrowing state money to purchase beachfront homes, renting them out to repay the loan and then tearing them down when they became uninhabitable, though it was eventually vetoed by the state governor.  
  • In Jamaica, a plan to relocate residents from an informal settlement, called Mona Commons, eventually did not go ahead. Some believe the reason was political — the constituency in question is considered a swing district and was decided by less than 150 votes in the 2016 election. 
  • Several indigenous Alaskan villages have also been identified as requiring relocation, however, securing the necessary funding to implement the move has been difficult. The village of Newtok — threatened by advancing erosion caused by the adjacent Ninglick River –—is the only success story with relocation to a new site, Mertarvik, underway now. 
  • In the 1950s, some residents of Vaitupu, in present-day Tuvalu, bought and moved to another island in Fiji, called Kioa, as insurance against overpopulation and land scarcity, discussed in this Brookings article from 2013. 

Planned relocation has been controversial, often because it impacts communities that are already marginalized and lacking in resources, and it can exacerbate existing inequalities when done incorrectly.  

“These are sacred African American grounds… how dare we be asked to move our town,” said Bobby Jones, the mayor of Princeville, North Carolina, in a 2022 article produced by Coastal Resilience grantee Melba Newsome about coastal displacement in the region.  

For Jones and many residents of Princeville — as well as other communities in the Carolinas — the historical and cultural significance of their homes was more important than the solutions being offered by the government. In this case, those solutions involved complicated house buyouts and a failed levee project that never came to fruition.  

Flooding in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina, during Hurricane Ian, which made landfall just south of Georgetown as a Category 1 hurricane on Sept. 30, 2022. Wilmington is at one end of the Gullah-Geechee corridor, which continues along the Atlantic coast to Florida / Credit: Mallory Brady Cash.
Flooding in downtown Wilmington, North Carolina, during Hurricane Ian, which made landfall just south of Georgetown as a Category 1 hurricane on Sept. 30, 2022. Wilmington is at one end of the Gullah-Geechee corridor, which continues along the Atlantic coast to Florida / Credit: Mallory Brady Cash.

 

However, planned relocation can be a positive action when it’s community-driven. In the Solomon Islands, for example, more than 300 representatives from government, civil society and communities came together with the help of IOM to create a set of guidelines for planned relocation that took physical, social and cultural needs into account, according to Pereira. 

Tip: Have you read stories covering instances like this in your region? Covering activities and gatherings like this can be great places to find story ideas and new angles, while also holding government actors accountable for utilizing the community feedback they receive.  

A community-driven approach can also bring residents together to build resources and solutions for themselves — and to decide collectively whether they stay or go. An example of this was shared by Russell at EJN’s webinar.  

“We didn’t go into communities and talk about climate change,” Russell said. “We went in and talked about the exact impacts from climate change that they were seeing in that area, whether that was sea level rise or land loss or extreme weather." The program, called LA Safe, brought residents together to decide where and how to invest government money that had been provided to enhance their climate and coastal resilience.  

But according to Russell, even with massive investments from the state and federal governments, migration is still a very clear reality for communities in the state’s Mississippi River delta and in other flood-vulnerable areas. 

“We have made tremendous investments in coastal restoration and working to reclaim some of those wetland losses from the sea,” Russell said. “This is a 50-year, $50 billion dollar set of engineering projects — but I want to underscore that even with these types of adaptation measures… it’s not enough to address the scale of ongoing migration.” 

 

A map of the Mississippi River Delta demonstrating where LA Safe projects are underway / Credit: Liz Russell.
A map of the Mississippi River Delta demonstrating where LA Safe projects are underway / Credit: Liz Russell.

 

Reporting on migration — and mobility solutions — beyond the data 

Here are some questions to ask and stories to investigate as you look into issues related to coastal migration in your region.  

Who is moving and who is staying? Reporting through an environmental justice lens  

As we’ve discussed, each person has access to sometimes drastically different resources to aid in mobility. Wealthy individuals can pay for flights, hotels, visa application processes and move quickly and painlessly. Plus, they’re more likely to live in places that are less affected in the first place, as evidenced in this story from our tipsheet on urban resilience, from researcher Dr. Furqan Asif: 

In 2011 and 2012, when Bangkok, Thailand, experienced some of the worst monsoon flooding in recent memory, water flooded the expressways built above the city and revealed some inequalities.

“The areas that were walled, which is where the urban elites hung out and lived, they were protected, but because the water increased it pushed toward the areas that were less well-off, where the urban poor lived,” said Asif.  “You’re seeing the consequences of this uneven urban resilience planning live.” 

In many Western countries, climate gentrification is revealing these inequalities. Gentrification happens when a neighborhood experiences an influx of wealthy residents, improving access to housing, businesses and other services but displacing the current residents. In the United States, it’s often associated with white, affluent people moving into historically Black or immigrant communities and pricing out existing residents. 

Climate gentrification refers to the same process, but within the context of the climate crisis: For centuries, the coast has always been prime real estate for big businesses like luxury condos, hotels and casinos. But as sea levels rise, coastal erosion and severe flooding continue to increase, costing businesses lots of money in repairs and flood insurance — and leading them to expand into neighborhoods that were never prime real estate. This causes displacement and gentrification for the current residents, who are often immigrants and people of color. 

A December 2022 article from Fast Company addressed Miami’s climate gentrification issues: Rather than be purely motivated by climate change, real estate developers are often seeking out cheaper land and using issues like sea level rise and damaging flooding to spin it “as a more sustainable choice to win over public officials and future residents.” 

Collaborative mural by local Miami artists, seen at 220 NE 59th Street in the Little Haiti area of Miami, Florida.     Photo by James aka @urbanmuralhunter on that other photo site.
A mural by local artists in the Little Haiti area of Miami, Florida, where climate gentrification has become a major issue / Credit: James Faircloth.


Russell highlighted that the people in power who make decisions about where to allocate money, or who gets to stay versus who is offered a home buyout, are often not the same people making those decisions about their own families. 

“The decisions around who gets to stay and who has to leave… are decided by people who are not from those places and are not having to go through those decisions themselves in most cases,” Russell said. “There are questions being posed from the communities in the US that are on the forefront of having to experience this: ‘If we could get resources to move, we should be able to get resources to stay.’” 

Story idea: Is your government prioritizing certain types of adaptation or solutions for certain communities, while ignoring or deprioritizing others? Are they spending more money in certain neighborhoods where affluent people might live? Are communities, particularly ones made up of low-income, Indigenous and/or other marginalized groups, included in decision-making about whether they stay or go? Who makes the decisions at the local, regional and national levels in your country about where financing comes from, where it goes and which solutions are chosen for implementation?  
 
Are safeguards in place to prevent migration, delay it and/or make it more equitable? 

International agencies, countries, cities and towns are all thinking about ways to help people adapt in their place of residence or make leaving a more accessible and equitable experience. Here’s a few potential solutions either being devised or implemented around the world.  

  • In five African cities, the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees has funded a project to improve the cities' waste management and the number of green spaces — employing migrants and refugees to implement it. 
  • In 2021, Haitian immigrants living in the United States who had been displaced by the 2010 earthquake were given Temporary Protected Status, an immigration program designed to offer short-term sanctuary for humanitarian disasters or conflicts. 
  • In 2017, after an influx of Rohingya refugees from Myanmar came to Bangladesh, the government cleared a 2,500-hectare forest to make room. The need for firewood furthered the deforestation and the area became extremely prone to flooding and landslides, so the UN High Commissioner on Refugees began a project to reforest the area, training refugees to do the work.  
  • In Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, a community project mapped the city’s most flood-vulnerable areas to provide guidance to developers and policymakers on the best locations for housing and public buildings.   
  • The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre partnered with Facebook to use location data to identify displacement patterns in India, Bangladesh and Japan after cyclones and typhoons caused large-scale migration.  
  • In northern Nigeria, young people regularly migrate to the country’s bigger cities seeking employment but a solar-powered factory to produce kilishi (a type of beef jerky that is a local delicacy) set up in the northern region now provides work for the local youth.  

A common solution suggested by experts often centers around social safety nets or social protection programs. As highlighted in this tipsheet, those programs are restricted to the town or community where the person lives, meaning they lose the safety net when they migrate. These programs can support families who lack the resources to move, allowing migration to be a safe and positive choice. Developing safety nets that move with migrants, such as unemployment benefits, pensions, public work programs, insurance and more, can be an important policy move.   

There are a few examples in Europe, although they all require residency or official refugee status: The European Union’s Emergency Social Safety Net, a cash assistance program for refugees within the EU; and Finland’s residence-based social protection system, available to migrants who have permanent resident status. 

Story idea: Has your government considered implementing any of these solutions? Would these examples present interesting case studies for policymakers in your region to consider? How could the lessons learned from these strategies be useful to communities, policymakers and other stakeholders where you live?   
 
What are the gaps in reporting?  

“People are not picking up and moving to the northern part of the state, even, they’re picking up and moving to one or two towns north along those fingers of the highways and the bayous that are higher land and less susceptible to flooding,” said Russell at our webinar last year.  

Her experience with communities in Louisiana, United States mirrors what Pereira from IOM sees on a global scale: While some families might choose to migrate internationally, the data overwhelmingly points to more local and regional migration. 

Immigration is often a really polarized subject in Western countries, particularly in the United States and parts of Europe. There’s a lot of sensationalist headlines in the media like, “Mass Climate Migration is Coming,” from a January 2023 piece in WIRED, or “The Century of Climate Migration: Why We Need to Plan for the Great Upheaval” from an August 2022 article in The Guardian. That doesn’t mean those stories don’t contain valuable information, or that the issue isn’t an urgent one — but the way they are packaged often leans into myths that aren’t backed by the data. Avoiding sensationalism in your articles and headlines can go a long way toward introducing more nuance into these conversations. 

So, how do journalists fill in these reporting gaps and center local communities when we tell these stories? Identifying what migration looks like in your community is a great place to start — whether that’s threats facing migrants or potential solutions to help them. 

We have a few examples from journalists here at EJN: In September 2020, Fijian journalist Stanley Simpson was covering successful relocation efforts in another part of the country when he learned about Narikoso, a village on Ono Island, that had been waiting for relocation for almost a decade.  

With EJN support, Simpson published text and video pieces about the delays, highlighting what government officials had done, why plans had fallen through and what threats the community was still facing from the encroaching ocean. The government took notice, and by November 2020, the prime minister had officially inaugurated the relocation site.  

Manorama Behera repairs her house in Satabhaya. She says she has not got a plot in Bagapatia resettlement colony / Credit: Priya Ranjan Sahu.
Manorama Behera repairs her house in Satabhaya. She says she has not gotten a plot in the Bagapatia resettlement colony / Credit: Priya Ranjan Sahu.

Elsewhere, in the coastal Indian state of Odisha, EJN grantee and journalist Priya Ranjan Sahu was also reporting on government delays related to the resettlement of coastal communities. Some families were still homeless, waiting to be relocated, while others at the new site found a severe lack of basic infrastructure. The reporting sparked change, and Sahu praised the efforts of other local journalists in working together to raise awareness, saying, “One story [alone] cannot bring the impact we wish for — there has to be a collective of local journalists repeatedly following up until it creates a snowball effect to create change.” 

Finding these types of stories in your local community means speaking directly with those affected and visiting their homes. It’s also important to consider how you speak to them: Migrants, refugees and those experiencing continual forced displacement have survived sometimes traumatic events and should be treated with care. Here’s a few resources on trauma-informed journalism to help you build relationships with your sources and approach their experiences with respect. 

Resource: Jo Healey’s book ‘Trauma Reporting: A Journalist's Guide to Covering Sensitive Stories’ provides useful information for journalists on developing a healthy, professional and respectful relationship with those who choose to tell their stories during times of trauma, distress or grief. Journalism.co.uk summarizes a few key points from the book. Another useful resource is UNESCO’s Reporting on migrants and refugees: handbook for journalism educators


Story themes 

Here are a few examples of topics to explore when reporting on climate-driven migration: 

  • Government plans: What types of plans has your government developed for coastal communities? Look for plans or government guidelines on disaster management and risk reduction, planned relocation, community input and stakeholder engagement, zoning, development permits and more.  
  • The climate change, migration and trafficking nexus: How is climate change making forced displacement more urgent and dangerous than before? What risks do women, girls and other marginalized communities face when migrating, such as trafficking and exploitation? Is your government aware of these risks and what plans are in place to protect vulnerable people?  
  • Slow-onset versus rapid-onset events: Are there slow-onset events like sea level rise, saltwater intrusion or drought that are going underreported or unnoticed by policymakers in your area? How could you draw attention to these often-ignored impacts of climate change? 
  • Legal frameworks: How could international, national, regional and local laws better protect migrants of all kinds? Could the 1951 Refugee Convention be amended to include climate change as a valid reason to seek asylum or refugee status? How does your country view migrants in general, and are there ways for those seeking to move to do so safely? What legal protections do migrants have in the workplace, for instance, and how can they access health care?  
  • Portable social safety nets: What social safety nets are available for migrants in your country? What type of immigration status do they require in order to access these safety nets, and are resources available for those who may not speak the national language? What type of safety net — cash assistance, insurance schemes, subsidies, etc. –— would be most useful to communities in your region? 
  • Land rights: Many communities will choose not to evacuate during disaster events because they lack property rights and worry their homes will not be theirs when they return. How can new frameworks be developed that protect these communities’ ability to return home while also ensuring they can stay safe during storms? 

Resources 

Examples of good stories on climate migration 
Research and data 
Other resources 

 


This tipsheet was produced by Hannah Bernstein with input from Amrita Gupta and Caroline Rothery. ​

Banner image: After a 2021 flood in Bihar, India, many communities were stranded far from their homes / Credit: Atul Pandey via Unsplash.