Climate Change, Migration, and Vulnerability: Overview of the Special Issue
Mikiyasu Nakayama*,, Scott Drinkall**, and Daisuke Sasaki***
*Graduate School of Frontier Sciences, The University of Tokyo
5-1-5 Kashiwanoha, Kashiwa, Chiba 277-8563, Japan
**Environmental Law Institute, Washington, D.C., USA
***International Research Institute of Disaster Science (IRIDeS), Tohoku University, Miyagi, Japan
Atoll countries in the Pacific, namely Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, and Tuvalu, will become sources of climate migrants in the foreseeable future. This study aimed to examine if people in these atoll countries were, are, or will be ready to successfully relocate to foreign countries by re-establishing their lives and livelihoods in a new environment. An international collaborative research project was launched and implemented from 2017 to 2019. Case studies were conducted in Micronesia, Kiribati, and the Marshall Islands as the origin of climate migrants and in Fiji and the USA as their destination. It was found that a number of legal tools and practical policy measures are available for countries to alleviate the struggles of environmental migrants, despite the lack of a comprehensive legal framework that protects environmental migrants by allowing them to move to other countries. In addition, 65% of the college and university students in the Marshall Islands indicated education as their primary reason to migrate abroad, followed by work (15%), health (8%), family (7%), climate change (3%), and natural disasters (2%). The ratios of students who wished to migrate because of climate change were similar between the Marshall Islands (3%) and Micronesia (4%), despite the fact that the former is an atoll country and the latter is mostly composed of “high-lying islands.” As for the migrants from the Marshall Islands and Micronesia to the USA, climate change was revealed to be a contributing factor for some in their decision to migrate, and more so as a factor for not returning home. It was also found that education had more influence than religion or culture on people’s perception of climate change and its implications in the Marshall Islands and Kiribati. The policy implemented in Vienna, Austria was proved to be effective in avoiding the emergence of society and culture-bound mental illness, which is inherent to large, isolated ethnic communities.
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