Climate Change and Human Mobility in the Pacific Region: Plans, Policies and Lessons Learned




Fornale, E.
Kagan, S.


Climate Change and Human Mobility in the Pacific Region: Plans, Policies and Lessons Learned




The two working papers in this volume are part of a series of KNOMAD publications that review empirical evidence on the linkages between environmental change and human mobility. These papers focus on small island states in the Pacific Ocean a part of the world that is likely to see the greatest impacts of climate change. As the IPCC Working Group on Impacts, Assessments and Vulnerability reported: Many small island states especially the atoll nations of the Pacific and Indian Oceans are among the most vulnerable to climate change, seasonal to interannual climate variability, and sea-level rise. Much of their critical infrastructure and many socioeconomic activities tend to be located along the coastline in many cases at or close to present sea level…. Coastal erosion, saline intrusion, sea flooding, and land-based pollution already are serious problems in many of these islands. Among these factors, sea-level rise will pose a serious threat to the ecosystems, economy, and, in some cases, existence of many small island states. Together, the papers examine ways in which these islands are trying to adapt to the medium and longer term impacts of climate change through strategic use of migration. They provide a critical review of current and planned efforts at planned relocation and labor migration within and across borders. They spell out successes and failures in implementing these strategies and provide recommendations to enhance the use of migration for adaptation to the effects of climate change. In “The Future Role of Labor Mobility Mechanisms in the Context of Environmental Degradation: Building or Crumbling Adaptation Strategies?,” Elisa Fornale focuses on cross border movements. She discusses bilateral and regional labor migration programs as vehicles for climate change adaptation. Among the programs reviewed are temporary mobility schemes through which New Zealand, Australia, and the United States have offered admission to migrants from the Pacific region. The paper also examines the use of trade policies in the region to manage labor mobility, including the Temporary Movement of Natural Persons (TMNP) provisions in the Pacific Island Countries Trade Agreement (PICTA) and the Pacific Agreement on Closer Economic Relations (PACER Plus) between the Pacific countries and Australia and New Zealand. Fornale concludes that these various strategies show promise but they would need to be scaled up to meet potential demand. Moreover, these schemes do not sufficiently protect the rights of the most vulnerable populations, whether they are mobile or left behind in their home countries. Sophia Kagan focuses primarily on internal relocation and migration in her paper entitled “Institutional Frameworks for Addressing Human Mobility in the Context of Environmental Change in the Pacific.” Like Fornale, Kagan examines existing and proposed frameworks on climate change, and the way in which mobility has been conceptualized. After mapping out climate change policies and laws in 15 Pacific island countries, Kagan focuses on the policies which consider mobility as an adaptation strategy for those affected by climate change; in particular, particular policies in Solomon Islands, Kiribati, and Tuvalu. Kagan goes beyond the policies themselves to consider actual implementation of strategies on mobility in the context of climate change. In particular, she considers cases of planned relocation including from the Carteret Islands and Manam Island in Papua New Guinea, and villages in Solomon Islands and Fiji facing ivcoastal erosion), as well as voluntary migration by individuals, who are up skilled to facilitate their ‘economic’ migration (particularly the case of Kiribati’s Australia Nursing Initiative). She concludes that a number of factors are critical to ensure rights-based mobility, particularly in the case of planned relocations, including adequate and consistent financing; secured access to land; and provided culturally appropriate compensation for both hosts and migrants, access to income opportunities, and health, educational, and other services. These two papers offer important lessons as small islands in the Pacific, as well as potential receiving countries such as New Zealand and Australia, develop national and regional strategies for addressing migration and relocation in the context of climate change. Their starting points are the large number of existing initiatives underway in the region. The recommendations will help policymakers to hone these programs to make them more effective, especially in protecting the rights of those who will have little choice other than to relocate or migrate in search of new homes and livelihoods.


Fornale, E., & Kagan, S. (2017). Climate Change and Human Mobility in the Pacific Region: Plans, Policies and Lessons Learned. URL :