Last month I had the pleasure of attending a conference at the University of Hamburg with some of the world’s leading experts on the subject of climate change and migration. The event, ‘Actions for Climate Change Induced Migration’, sought to bring together academics and researchers from across the globe to discuss how we can improve our understanding of the relationship between climate change and human mobility. From July 16-18 I took in dozens of presentations by experts from a variety of research areas relevant to the study of climate change and migration, including economists, geographers, sociologists, lawyers and many others.
My interest, coming from a public policy background, was in how an improved understanding of the relationship between climate change and migration can lead to more effective and progressive policy solutions to assist affected populations. During my graduate studies at the University of Ottawa, my research centred on how this issue was being framed by different policy communities from around the globe, and how these narratives reflected specific national, regional, and political interests. My current research in Dhaka – which I presented on during this conference – takes a more practical approach to this issue by examining how information communications technologies (ICTs) can be used to improve our understanding of how climate change impacts affect human mobility.
In recent years, evolving research methods that use “big data” derived from mobile phone SIM cards have been applied to improve our understanding of how diseases like malaria are spread, how people move in response to extreme events like earthquakes, and how urban planning can be tailored to human mobility in major cities. My interest in this issue as a visiting researcher at ICCCAD lies in exploring how these techniques can be used to study how climate change impacts – both sudden and slow onset events – influence migration patterns in Bangladesh.
In my presentation – which was a little nerve-racking, given the high-level audience – I talked about how this methodology works and how we might use this additional source of mobility data to study how climate change is affecting migration patterns within and between different communities. It was validating to hear that many of the attendees were intrigued with my research, which addressed a key information gap – lack of good data on human migration in developing states – that had been raised by several other presenters.
While there were a number of interesting discussions that occurred during this three-day event, the most exciting thing for me was being able to rub-shoulders with some of the other presenters. Most of these people – notably, Graeme Hugo at the University of Adelaide, François Gemmen at Science Po, and Susan Adamo at Columbia – are kind of a big deal in the world of climate change and migration research. Getting to share the stage and engage with them about their research was a great experience.
Overall, it was very satisfying for me to present at this conference, as climate change and migration has been a issue of interest for me for several years now, but one that I had put on hold for a period following my graduate studies. Attending this event, and delivering a presentation on my research – which, I think, was fairly well-received – was an excellent way for me to re-engage my interest in this evolving and exciting field. While I’ve worked on a number of other interesting issues during my posting as a visiting researcher at ICCCAD, on a personal level, this was probably the most fulfilling manifestation of the opportunities this position has provided me with.