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River flowing through the Himalayas.
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Major grant to new research on climate change and migration

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A new research program that will study the relationship between climate change and global migration has received close to SEK 30 million from the Swedish Research Council’s (VR) Interdisciplinary Research Environment Grant. World-leading climatologist Delian Chen is one of the researchers within the programme, which is led by Anders Burman, associate professor at the School of Global Studies.

The interdisciplinary research group consists of researchers from both the natural sciences and social sciences. Their aim is to produce new knowledge about how climate change affects global migration. In order to gain a deeper understanding the researchers will study how climate change interacts with other factors such as poverty, livelihoods, state governance and the lack of equality and gender equality when people decide to migrate.

“There have been few interdisciplinary studies that examine the role that climate change actually plays in people's decisions to migrate. There is also a lack of knowledge about how climate change interacts with other factors in relation to migration. My colleague Andréas Litsegård started working on this issue several years ago, and now we have developed this idea together and set it into a larger comparative framework,” says Anders Burman.

The nine researchers within the programme are based in Sweden, Norway, Peru, Ethiopia and Nepal. They are active within several different research disciplines such as climatology, human geography, human ecology, international relations, social anthropology and development studies.

“Climate change is one of the ultimate issues of our time. We need to approach this through interdisciplinary research in order to understand how climate change affects people’s lives, how it is experienced and how it leads people to make decisions about migrating or not. Climate research gives us fundamentally important knowledge about the biophysical processes, but it can’t answer questions about power and inequality. For that, we need the social sciences. And it is only when we combine the natural sciences and social sciences that we can find complex linkages between climate change and migrations,” says Anders Burman.

The team of researchers will focus on three mountain regions where climate change is already affecting the livelihoods of the rural population: the Andes, the Ethiopian highlands and the Himalayas.
“Mountain regions are especially interesting case studies for this research. Melting glaciers, water shortages and changing weather patterns are already a reality in these regions that people must adapt to,” says Anders Burman.

By combining research methods from the social sciences, such as ethnographic fieldwork and demographic analysis with, for example, climate modelling from the natural sciences, the researchers will systematically collect and compare data from the three regions. In this way, they want to gain a deeper understanding of complex relationships and produce solid scientific knowledge to be used by decision-makers at several levels.

“I’m also convinced that our research will contribute to the debate on climate justice. The people who contribute the least to climate change and who gain the least from the activities that are causing climate change are often those who are hardest hit by its consequences. They are often the ones who are forced to migrate. It is therefore very important to understand the connection between climate change and migration,” says Anders Burman.

TEXT: Linda Genborg

About the research programme

The research programme A New Interdisciplinary Framework for Studying the Relation between Climate Change and Migration will run from year 2022-2027.

Researchers:

  • Anders Burman, senior lecturer in human ecology and assistant head of department at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg.
  • Andréas Litsegård, senior lecturer in international relations at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg.
  • Karsten Paerregaard, professor emeritus in social anthropology at the School of Global Studies, University of Gothenburg.
  • Deliang Chen, professor at the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Gothenburg.
  • Julia Curio, postdoctor at the Department of Earth Sciences, University of Gothenburg
  • Andrea Nightingale, professor at the Department of Sociology and Human Geography, Oslo University.
  • Guillermo Salas, senior lecturer in social anthropology at Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú.
  • Dil Khatri, director of Southasia Institute of Advanced Studies, Nepal.
  • Truphena Mukuna, director of the Organisation of Social Science Research in Eastern and Southern Africa, Ethiopia.