EDGE Summer School on Environmental Changes and Migration

Between 4-8 September 2018, the Hugo Observatory hosted the third and final edition of the Annual Environmental Diplomacy and GEopolitics (EDGE) Summer School in Liège, a flagship event which had previously taken place in Paris in 2016 and in Bratislava in 2017.

The Summer School was targeted at PhD Students focusing their research on environmental changes and migration as well as Master’s students interested in preparing a PhD related to environmental changes and migration.

The programme featured diverse, international experts to address key issues related to environmental changes and migration, including methods, policies and the state of the research. These issues were brought together through cross-cutting panels and student presentations. The programme included panels/presentations by renowned experts and academics, as well as methodology workshops and social activities.

Participants included 21 PhD students9 Master students or prospective PhD students and 2 Post-doctoral researchers. Out of these 32 participants, 18 came from EU countries and 14 from non-EU countries. Nationalities represented included: Europe (France, Belgium, Germany, Slovakia, Greece, UK, Italy, Portugal, Slovenia), Middle East (Turkey), Asia (Bangladesh, China, India), Africa (Algeria, Uganda), North America (USA), South America (Brazil).

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Day 1: Methods

The Summer School started with opening remarks by François Gemenne (Director of the Hugo Observatory) and a presentation of the EDGE project by Paula Puskarova(EDGE project Coordinator and Assistant Professor at the University of Economics in Bratislava/EUBA).



We should build a new humanitarian legal system for migration related to environmental displacement”. It was with this sentiment that the EDGE 2018 summer school kicked off in Liège in September as Pascal Brice (Director General of the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons) delivered a keynote address on the state of asylum in Europe.

An exciting array of lectures and talks from various experts in the field, provided not only food for thought but also space for the participants to engage and critically question the concepts relating to environmental displacement. From day one the participants were introduced to the idea of environmental displacement from a number of angles through the insights of a variety of distinguished speakers. Not only were the participants presented with varying opinions and information but also the opportunity to really delve into the issues first hand. The first panel focused on “Innovation in Research Methods”. As such, the featured experts covered topics related to “understanding the impacts of climate change on land degradation and natural hazards” (Matthias Vanmaercke, University of Liège), “introducing environment into migration models” (Sabine Henry, University of Namur) and “transforming data and creating global statistics on disaster displacement” (Michelle Yonetani, Independent expert).

After the series of short talks in the morning, the group split into 3 and discussed the difficult and nuanced issues such as forced displacement and voluntary migration, sudden and slow-onset events and internal and cross border displacement. By breaking the concepts down to their very foundations, the complexity in which they are entangled within was quickly revealed.


The first day left the participants in a haze of inspiration and questioning. The participants were treated with a welcome cocktail which allowed them to network and continue their exchanges with students and speakers in a more informal way.



Day 2: State of Research


The second day of the conference continued in a similar vein with participants being exposed to a number of concepts to reflect upon. The day began with a round table on “The State of Research: Progress and Blind Spots. Speakers from a number of international institutions painted a picture of where we stand in terms of environmental migration and provided insights into where we need to go. The key points that arose during the discussion were centred around “old questions and new questions related to environmental migration” (Etienne Piguet, University of Neuchâtel), “(Im)mobility” (Caroline Zickgraf, University of Liège) and “research gaps from the IOM perspective” (Dina Ionesco, IOM MECC division).


Students were then given space to begin presenting their own projects in order to receive feedback and constructive criticism from the group. This proved to be an invaluable resource for the participants, for some of whom it was the first time they had been given the opportunity to share ideas in such a way. For those closer to the end of their projects, it was also an informative and important process as it allowed for them to be given the space to reflect on their PhD journeys and share insight and findings.



The afternoon started with a keynote lecture by Dr. Alex De Sherbinin (Columbia University), second rotating EDGE Chair in Environmental Diplomacy, on “Approaches to modeling climate change-induced displacement and migration”.



The evening boat tour along the Meuse river allowed space for the discussions inspired by the day’s talks and presentations to flourish and for friendships to begin to grow. The group were blessed with an informative tour guide and were lucky enough to just miss the rain storms approaching.




Day 3: A day in Bonn

An early start meant that the group was able to make it to Bonn for the TransRe conference “Adaptation in Motion: Linking climate change, migration and resilience”. The morning discussions were focused on translocal resilience and provided an interesting insight into some of the innovative work of researchers in the field. After a number of informative presentations, students were given the chance to speak with presenters and conference participants. Alongside being further informed and inspired by the vast body of work occurring in the field of environmental migration, through this event, participants were also exposed to the close-knit community feeling of this very interdisciplinary and emerging field.


The afternoon consisted of a tour and discussion at the UNFCCC Secretariat offices. The group was able to speak to members of the Task Force on Displacement and discuss the ways in which human mobility features in climate policy. The discussion gave a historical overview of the growth of the concept of adaptation and moved towards how the task force on displacement has emerged, its capacities and future. It was interesting to be given a space to understand the ways in which the UNFCCC can play a role in the issues surrounding displacement and the competencies of such a body.


Day 4: Policies

The fourth day of the conference began moving the themes of discussion from the theory to a more grounded practice. The day began with a look into the interactions between research and policies. A number of speakers including Caroline Zickgraf from the Hugo Observatory and Francois Gemenne were able to discuss with members of organisations that work in the policy field, namely Bina Desai (Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, IDMC) and Atle Solberg (Platform on Disaster Displacement) who presented their respective institutions’ research and policy perspectives with regards to disaster displacement. David Wrathall (University of Oregon) then gave an thought-provoking presentation posing the question of whether we are studying population-environment problems when and where they are actually happening. Allowing the audience to critically look at the way which we combine practice, theory and policy. In a cumulative way, these discussions brought an interesting lens to the more theoretical ideas that had been discussed the previous days.


Before breaking for lunch, another session of students presentations took place, allowing them to receive feedback on their ongoing or projected research.


This trend continued with the afternoon’s lectures. Ambassador Jean-Luc Bodson (Special Envoy for Migration and Asylum – Belgium) spoke on the very recent global compact on migration and refugees. Ambassador Bodson’s insights proved incredibly interesting for the group, who through his talk were able to get a clearer understanding of the ways in which the process had occurred and its implications.



The day concluded with a masterfully presented quiz on Environmental migration and dinner at the Brasserie Curtius, a landmark in Liège.


Day 5: Workshop: Authoring a PhD on Environmental Changes and Migration

It was almost with a heaviness that the participants began the last day of the summer school; having been exposed to such inspirational ideas and people, it felt almost too soon to end. The morning lived up to the high levels of engagement and participation and rounded off the week beautifully. Participants themselves having gone through their own form of a journey were now presented with the final practicalities and information on how to proceed in the world. Presentations and discussion tackled the finer details of embarking into the world of research; the Hugo Observatory team and associate members (Andrea Milan, IOM and David Wrathall) presented information on how to frame a topic, to collect and analyze data, and to apply for PhD funding. Small group discussions were held delving into the depths of the finer details of issues that arise and challenges that students face in research, such as fitting into international research networks and working with international research teams (David Wrathall), as well as what is needed in order to publish one’s thesis and during writing one’s thesis (Caroline Zickgraf).

The school concluded with a final ceremony and distribution of completion certificates and copies of the State of Environmental Migration 2017. Participants then went their separate ways, inspired and ready to contribute to the world of academia and beyond.


Testimonies from Summer School Participants


Brittany Wheeler Lauren (Clark University, USA)
“The words that best describe the EDGE summer school are generative and generous. I’ve attended conferences, workshops, and summer programs regularly for more than ten years, and this was truly the best among them. I came from the United States to attend, and this proved to be a great decision. I was able to take stock and give form to the state of the field, find a rigorous yet comfortable space to speak about my own work, and braid together the strands of policy, theory, and the scope of environmental migration over time and in the present. Critique was welcome, passion was palpable, and resources were many during this week. Aside from the content, the program was immaculately planned, with clear communication and a sizable amount of care. There were so many informal and professional ways to connect with others, and I appreciated the length of the summer school, and its ability to aid camaraderie and copious feedback. I came back home academically inspired, ready to tackle my PhD benchmarks, and eager to stay in touch with those I met.”

Elisabeth Henriet (University of Namur, Belgium)
This first summer school experience after four years of working on my thesis helped me to settle my ideas and to open new research doors. It made me regret not having joined summer schools earlier in my thesis-process. The topic of environment and migration was tackled from various perspectives with a particular focus on compiling the overall picture and pointing the remaining gaps. As I am at an early stage of reflecting on my career perspectives, I also appreciated the fact that the speakers were from various horizons -not only research- as I could gather information about the nature of their job. Finally, the conference allowed me to network with other researchers in my field. I also really enjoyed the week on a personal level and I felt nostalgic about it being already over on Saturday”.

Samuel Lietaer (Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium)
“The EDGE summer school was a very rich 5-day experience in many respects. On an academic level, many students and speakers came from different academic backgrounds and cultures. At an interpersonal level, this also led to many international acquaintances and possibly a start for new friendships. This will certainly facilitate further collaborations in this inter-disciplinary field of study. The high-level guest speakers were excellent and very relevant for several key issues on migration. There was a perfect balance between practitioners from the field and well-established scholars. The extra-muros activities were varied with time for serious and intellectual eye-openers, such as the trip to Bonn which nicely combined an academic conference and a visit to the UNFCCC buildings and critical exchanges with staff from the Task force on Displacement.”

Sofia Fernandes (Universidade Alberta, Portugal/SIST British University, Morocco) 
“The EDGE International Summer School fully met my expectations. It was a perfect environment to learn and share experiences with renowned practitioners and academics as well as with colleagues at different stages of their research and academic career. It provided a very important boost to advance in my PhD.”

Dr. Natália Zágoršeková (University of Economics in Bratislava, Slovakia)
“The week spent in Liege during the summer school was very enriching for me. As an economist, I do not always have daily contacts with the issues of migration and environmental changes. In the company of many young researchers I came across new ideas and concepts that I will certainly use in my work. I am especially thankful for the quality of the speakers featured at the summer school. Last but not least, I would like to thank the organizers for additional activities organized for the participants during the week.”

Jiaqi Liu (University of San Diego, USA)
“This summer school was absolutely an eye-opener for any scholars and researchers in the field of environmental migration. It drew extensively from the wide-ranging expertise and knowledge of policymakers, practitioners and scholars in this area and presented the latest developments of environmental migration both in academia and on the ground. I hope there could be more summer schools or conferences on this topic in the coming years to further develop our collective knowledge on the issue of environmental migration and create a close-knit community of next-generation researchers across the globe.”

Jonas Bergmann (Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research & Humboldt University, Germany)
“The summer school in Liège was a truly inspiring academic and social experience. The cutting-edge knowledge from renowned experts was only matched by the curiosity of the participants: a vibrant group of young professionals and researchers with promising, innovative approaches to pressing questions in our field. Thanks to the summer school, I have received significant feedback on my own research and refreshed or built strong ties with the community that will foster future collaborations. Many thanks and warm wishes to all the organizers, experts, and participants.”

Emilie D’Amico (Sciences Po Paris, France/Bocconi University of Milan, Italy)
“The EDGE 2018 Summer school was an extremely enriching experience. The one-week program provided a great opportunity to learn from experts committed to the understanding of environmental migrations. Thanks to the combination of various presentations on the state of research with a field trip to the UNFCCC in Bonn, I was able to fully grasp the diversity of approaches and research methods mobilized, while better understanding the role of international cooperation in addressing this issue. The opportunity for the participants to present their research and get individual feedback further added to this learning experience. Each of us could benefit from precious advice and practical tips for research, which was extremely useful. Lastly, this was a chance to meet and exchange with people from the same field. What an opportunity to connect with inspiring fellow students around a Belgian beer, to discover the city of Liège while cruising on the Meuse, and for a few lucky participants, to run the famous Montagne de Bueren! My deepest gratitude to the EDGE team for this opportunity and for such strong example of fruitful European cooperation.

Beatrice Ruggieri (University of Bologna, Italy)
“The EDGE Summer School in Liège was an unforgettable experience. Thanks to the experts’ lectures, the precious feedback about our research and the opportunity to meet with many people from different parts of the world, each with their own stories and academic backgrounds, the week in Liège has been intense, dynamic and full of hints for our future projects. The organization by the Hugo Observatory team was perfect and the whole experience has been very enriching. I am really glad to have been part of it.”

Shouvik Das (Jadavpur University, India)
“This was an excellent opportunity to get in touch with people with similar interests and to grow a network of colleagues, and peers beyond my own university. I have learnt much from key presenters and through interaction with my peers. It will not only benefit my academic credentials, but it will also improve the quality of my contributions to scientific knowledge.”

Samuel Tumwesigye (KU Leuven, Belgium)
“The sessions enabled me to gain diverse understanding of the domain of environmental changes and migration, especially listening from experts – both researchers and practitioners. It offered a good blend of knowledge and I found it quite interesting, particularly, being able to relate/link research with practice and policy. As a young researcher with development work experience, it was interesting to see, clearly how research and policy + practice talk to each other, the complementarity there is. The diversity reach of the research topics, as presented by all participants and experts was a good opportunity for me to appreciate the domain of environmental migration and to realize that there is a lot one can research on. Listening to how several others have stated the problem, conceptualized the research, applied the research methodologies, dealt/dealing with challenges encountered, was all good stuff to borrow a leaf from. The opportunity to present and share my research concept with other and receive inputs from the experts was well appreciated. I got valuable suggestions and contributions into my research concept, on areas such as the frameworks to benchmark, more aspects to integrate and the modelling approaches to follow. I found the discussion on how to frame a PhD research topic, collect and analyze data, writing convincing abstracts and proposal, quite interesting, informative and guiding. The points shared, especially grounded on practical experience of various experts, were all speaking to me as a young researcher. Generally, as a young researcher, I found the summer school experience very enriching. Participation offered me space to learn what and how others researchers and practitioners are doing in the domain of environmental changes and migration, as well as the considered research and knowledge gaps. I was able to learn from the shared experience on how to link research with policy and practice. Additionally, I have to mention that it was a space for establishing networks, build connections for future interactions and possibly for establishment of “future” research collaborations. Thank you for the opportunity.”

Chinglen Laishram (Central University of Gujarat, India)

“My stay in Liege has been very pleasant and enabled me to explore the relations between climate change and migration. I am very fortunate to have had the opportunity to attend lectures from high-level experts in climate change and migration studies. I initially thought the summer school would be research-focused only, but the river cruise and the wonderful dinner organized by the team will always make me remember the summer school as more than what I had hoped for. It was a very valuable experience in terms of social interactions among participants and with the experts. The summer school has made me think and come up with few research questions which I can explore further.”

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