Environmentally-Induced Displacement and Human Security

Research Paper, Geneva, March 2013.

22 Pages Posted: 29 Nov 2012 Last revised: 23 May 2013

Date Written: November 19, 2012


We can distinguish two general causes of internal displacement worldwide: 1. the impact of threats to and ensuing decline in the level of human security below that needed for normal existence in the homeland territory, 2. administrative compulsion to leave the current place of residence. Every year, at least tens of millions of people on all continents are forced to leave their places of residence. The predominant cause is the occurrence of natural disasters, creating the most dynamic category of internal displacement. According to IDMC estimates, natural disasters expelled 42 million people from their homes in 2010 and 14 million people in 2011. Many cases of internal displacement are associated with the accelerating dynamics of climate change, which is a much more long-term phenomenon. The causes of this kind of displacement are the desertification of soils and potential rise in sea level. The aim of this paper will be to determine the impact on several areas of human security of long-term environmental change and the displacement it causes.

The objective of this work is to draw attention to the impact of climate change on internal displacement as an important factor affecting the security of millions of inhabitants of our planet. Relevant considerations have been preceded by an analysis of the most important causes of internal displacement. Among them we can mention: 1. internal armed conflicts and escalation of violence, 2. discrimination, persecution, and repression by state authorities or other political actors, 3. natural or man-made disasters, 4. long-term environmental changes, 5. economic development, 6. conservation of nature, and 7. specific combinations of political, economic or environmental factors (such as famine). In the next section I draw attention to the historical examples of long-term displacement caused by climate change. Environmental factors and declining resources have been the root cause of migration over most of human history. Only the consequences of the Neolithic (r)evolution and the gradual emancipation from the forces of nature resulted in a greater diversity of contemporary migrations.

The most important section of the work draws attention to the decline in the level of human security associated with long-term environmental processes and the displacement they cause. The consequences can be both violent conflicts for space and resources as well as more peaceful migrations in search of better living conditions. A useful research tool in analyzing such processes has been the classification of seven areas of human security included in the UNDP Human Development Report published in 1994. I have expanded this classification by adding two areas: cultural security, and risks affecting the groups most vulnerable to the negative consequences of environmental change. Among those I have mentioned are: women, children, the elderly, indigenous people, illegal settlers, those with no formal rights to land or resources, and other categories of minorities.

Keywords: environmentally-induced displacement, environment, internal displacement, human security, human development

Suggested Citation

Terminski, Bogumil, Environmentally-Induced Displacement and Human Security (November 19, 2012). Research Paper, Geneva, March 2013.. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2177781 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2177781

Bogumil Terminski (Contact Author)

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United States

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