he study of environmental migration is a rapidly expanding research domain. We are concerned by the ensemble of population movements (forced and voluntary) associated with environmental degradation, whether they are sudden, such as natural and industrial disasters, or more gradual, such as many of the impacts of climate change (desertification, sea-level rise, etc.). Environmental degradation has undoubtedly always influenced human migration (e.g. the American Dust Bowl) to varying extents, but is now one of the major factors affecting migration and displacement globally: since 2008, natural catastrophes have displaced an average of 26 million people each year – three times the number displaced by war and conflict (IDMC).
Over the past few decades, this issue has rightfully become a major preoccupation of international organisations and of governments, and spawned a growing corpus of research, both empirical and theoretical. In October 2015, in the framework of the Nansen Initiative (an intergovernmental process initiated by Switzerland and Norway), more than 109 governments gathered in Geneva and adopted an international protection agenda for these migrants (specifically cross-border disaster-induced displacees). In December of 2015, COP21 officially declared the creation of an international ‘task force’ to treat the issue. This task force was established in the course of COP22 in Marrakesh. Migration is also recognized as a potential adaptation strategy to the impacts of climate change, an additional element being discussed and treated in the framework international climate negotiations.
In the past few years, this research domain, situated at the crossroads of migration studies and environmental studies, has witnessed exponential growth in recognition and scholarship, no doubt supported by media attention to the topic. A rich, dynamic, and highly collaborative scientific community has blossomed, of which we at the Hugo Observatory are proud to be a part.
The Hugo Observatory began as an informal group of researchers formed at the University of Liège to treat questions of environmental migration. Rapidly, the team gained international visibility and proudly claimed a place at the forefront of the research evolution on these issues. The team is today widely recognized for its excellence in the field, and continues to attract new researchers and students each year. It has developed empirical expertise in a number of regions of the world, in particular in West Africa, Southeast Asia and the South Pacific, aided in the field by a number of local partner institutions.
The official establishment of the Hugo Observatory at the University of Liège allows us to formally join forces in order to develop an innovative domain of expertise.