Linking Climate Change, Habitability and Social Tipping Points:
Scenarios for Climate Migration
The Hugo Observatory will coordinate the largest research project on climate change and migration to have ever been funded by the EC’s Horizon 2020 programme. With a total budget of 6.8 million euros, the HABITABLE project seeks to advance the understanding of how climate affects the habitability of socio-ecological systems and transforms current and future migration and displacement patterns.
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he impacts of climate change have already been identified as crucial drivers of migration and displacement: the first European Commission-funded project on this topic, EACH-FOR, empirically established the existence of causal linkages between environmental degradations and migration, and the Foresight project - commissioned by the British government - provided a comprehensive state-of-the-art of these linkages. However, data and knowledge on the interactions between migration drivers remain limited. The interactions between, for instance, climate change and the sustainability of livelihoods or political stability are not yet fully understood. Furthermore, the linearity between climate change impacts and associated migration outcomes is often assumed. Yet, by analysing how the perception of increasing temperatures and worsening rainfall conditions have impacted migration decisions in West Africa, the HELIX project provided evidence on how the magnitude of climate impacts does not necessarily correspond to the magnitude of migration as the perceptions of affected populations play a key role on migration outcomes.
In order to address these knowledge gaps, the HABITABLE project - Linking Climate Change, Habitability and Social Tipping Points: Scenarios for Climate Migration - will be centred around the notion of habitability, and will formulate a broader, interdisciplinary conceptualisation of what constitutes a social tipping point as an original way to analyse how environmental disruptions can potentially trigger major social changes. HABITABLE contends that the habitability of a given place is hardly objective and cannot be determined by analyses of climate parameters alone. On the contrary, migration outcomes are strongly dependent upon individual and collective perceptions of changes and risks, as well as other mitigating factors of these changes - such as the resilience of the socio-ecological system and the adaptive strategies and capacity of populations in situ.
By analysing the effects of climate impacts on the system as a whole - including social, political, economic, environmental and demographic factors - and accounting for both objective and subjective dimensions, HABITABLE’s systemic approach will contribute to the design of appropriate and sustainable policy responses to the climate-migration nexus.
Building from this, an innovative contribution from HABITABLE is the consideration of the perceptions of affected populations - migrant and non-migrant - regarding the habitability of local areas and the perceived benefits of migration to better understand migration decisions.
The overall goal of HABITABLE is to investigate how and to what extent climate change affects the habitability of socio-ecological systems and transforms current and future migration patterns. This will be achieved through four objectives.
- Develop a predictive understanding of migration trends under climate change through the identification of social tipping points that may induce migration.
- Propose adaptation options and strategies for populations affected by climate change based on an assessment of how migration redefines the limits to adaptation.
- Mainstream gendered and social equity dimensions in the project’s conceptual framework, data collection and analysis, and dissemination activities.
- Support the development of effective policy responses by co-producing migration scenarios and policy recommendations with key stakeholders.
One concrete innovative output of HABITABLE is an aid-to-decision tool (A2DT) for artisanal fishermen in Dakar (Senegal), which aims to improve the catch/costs ratio by reducing the level of uncertainty in optimal fishing locations. As this is a likely cause of regional or international migration of artisanal fishermen, the A2DT will possibly reduce the number of fishermen willing to leave their fishing area due to the too-high variability of catches. Such a tool could be imagined for any marine community in the world (e.g. the USA have recently started to test the idea on the West Coast fisheries).
The key innovation resides in the co-construction of the tool with fishermen themselves. By combining modern science with traditional knowledge, the tool will provide real-time information to mitigate the loss of income due to uncertainties caused by the variability of environmental factors in optimal fishing areas.The consortium’s experience with this A2DT can lead to recommendations for other coastal fishing regions of the world, in particular in countries with a similar observational system already in place (e.g. Morocco, Benin, Argentina, Colombia, Brazil, Chile).
HABITABLE is divided into three research domains: Web of Causalities (Domain 1), Adaptation (Domain 2), and Policies (Domain 3). These domains are complemented by two integrative, transversal elements: Gender and social equality, and Stakeholder engagement. Each domain will comprise Work Packages led by different institutions according to their expertise, in partnership with consortium members whose geographical, disciplinary and methodological strengths complement each other’s.
The different work packages are organised as displayed below:
HABITABLE will be implemented by a diverse consortium associating 20 partners from different disciplines, coming from 17 countries across three continents. The consortium includes academic research institutions, think tanks, non governmental organisations, and international organisations from Europe, West Africa, East Africa, Southern Africa and Southeast Asia.
The 20 partners in the HABITABLE consortium are: University of Liège (BE), University of Vienna (AT), Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (DE), University of Exeter (UK), Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (NO), Lund University (SE), Sapienza Università di Roma (IT), Adelphi (DE), Université de Neuchâtel (CH), Institut de Recherche pour le Développement (FR), Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (ZA), UNESCO (FR), University of Ghana (GH), CARE (FR), University of Twente (NL), Université Cheikh Anta Diop (SN), Stockholm Environment Institute Asia (SE), Raks Thai Foundation (TH), Addis Ababa University (ET), Institut National de la Statistique du Mali (ML).