Presentation as text

Philosophy of religion is not the most obvious discipline to consider through the perspective of the academic contribution to the engagement with the challenge of climate migration. But that is what makes it interesting; are its considerations of the nature of the human person in the universe able to have any impact on the practical world in which the human person evolves, here in the context of climate refugees? Is it able to speak of this real world, to raise awareness over that particular issue? To find out, I interrogated Christopher Hamilton from the department of theology and religious studies.



To the first question on the implications of forced migration induced by climate change in his discipline, he quickly answered that “most English-speaking philosophy wouldn’t have a great deal to say about it” since “philosophy considers itself a highly abstract and a purely conceptual discipline”. But he does not think that this is an inherent problem of philosophy and he does call for a change: “the discipline needs to open itself to ordinary, concrete, practical realities in a way that, I think, is lamentably missing, actually, in the discipline.” I think that this observation is clearly not solely his own; he himself evokes Bernard Williams and Raymond Geuss. But in a way more closely linked to our subject, Steve Vanderheiden who is a specialist of justice theories in relation to climate change, shows awareness of the inability of justice theories to speak of climate change justice: “scholars of justice theory often refuse to apply their principles to concrete social or political issues; instead, they develop those principles in abstraction from contemporary value conflicts or policy debates, preferring to remain silent on how justice might inform controversial political decisions” and in particular in the problem of international injustice that is climate change. First victims of such kind of injustice are of course, forced environmental migrants – and according to both Hamilton and Vanderheiden, philosophy is unable just to see the ethical nature of the challenge they face.


Nonetheless, there seems to be some hope for philosophy according to Hamilton. One of the points he raises is that the most theological part of philosophy (“these parts of philosophy of religion that touches on theology”) there has been a move toward questioning the nature of embodied faith. One of the author he evokes is Mark Wynn and his book Faith and Place. Indeed, in Faith and Place, Wynn insist on the fundamentally embodied nature of religious experience and epistemology, as the divine is met in a particular space, sacred and profane. Place becomes inhabited as human beings are given to associate it with narratives that offers them meaning. What is interesting here is that for Wynn this not only the case for strictly religious meanings but also for other, perhaps less evident forms of meanings such as friendships – Wynn spends chapter 2 on the relation of friendship and spaces through a particular case study. This emphasis on space, faith as enacted, in contrast with the more traditional insistence on faith as knowledge. This provides I think, a very good argument to raise awareness on the deeply tragic nature of the destruction of the lived environment lying at the heart of the problem of forced climate migration; if immediate needs like food and health can be resolved through migration, the deterioration of the environment itself forbids access to the system of meanings embodied in the deteriorated spaces.


Furthermore, I think this type of emphasis on space and materiality rather than discourse in theological philosophy can provide an answer to numerous of the deep paradigmatic issues within Western though that put too much distinction between human and non-human causality (such as those evoked by Hamilton in philosophy the traditional distinction between moral and natural evil and in theology the deeply ambivalent Christian view of the material world). This problem of the intricacy of human and non-human causes (see Paramjit S. Jaswal and Stellina Jolly, 2013), which is deeply problematic to assess responsibilities and find long-term solutions to the climate forced migration challenge, way well be rooted in that. Recovering a conception of the human being as thoroughly material, living in a given, local space can be achieved, at least partially, by philosophy of religion which can therefore help both philosophy and theology to rethink the human being in his environment – beyond Wynn, I would think of movements such as Radical Orthodoxy with a similar insistence on mediations, on embodied faith, on the material and local character of belief. But of course this remains highly speculative and we can’t hope for a change within the Western paradigm on the short and middle-term – from the speculations of philosophy of religion to the concrete human climatic refugee there is a long way.

Meeting 24/3

Meeting 24/3


Order of presentation:







Conclusion ideas:

  • It helped us understand better how NGO’s work and what they focus on
  • Limitations
  • Is there something we can change to mitigate the effects of climate migration?
  • There is not enough awareness, there is indication something is going on
  • Changing perception of the refugee, from political à environmental


Questions for Helen:

  • Do we need a methodology?
  • Do we need to mention change? Where?



We should make sure that each person’s presentation smoothly transitions from one person to the next


Everyone should tie their research in part to NGO’s


Mention the obvious that we should of course strive to fight climate change



  • In order to look to the future of the problem we need to have an interdisciplinary outlook because we can all help each other
  • Law à the idea that we need a new definition for refugees that are specific to environmental refugees with rights that are specific to them as well à NGO’s need work at doing this on a local level
  • The discipline is way too theoretical and has difficulties to engage with reality because of methodological problems within it, but there are different scholars who move toward finding solutions and engage more with the real world. E.g. theology is able to speak more directly to the issue, there is a strong reflection on how faith can be embodied in space, and how space is imbued with tradition etc, EM destroys both basic human needs: buildings etc but it also destroys the collective human memory of space




  • Make 2/3 bullet points per section discussed
  • Bibliography



Try to use 2 slides each


Helen meeting:

How have different perspectives come together and used information together? à that is what markers are looking for

How are the questions we’re asking linked to other disciplines

Make sure each question answers the fundamental research question

Include a methodology à be reflective of how you’ve done what you’ve done to answer the question

Have an intro setting up the q, in that we say what disciplines inform the question and how we’ve chosen to research

We are interested in how real academics conceive of the disciplinary work they do and how it relates to real world practical problems.

We have an original question and the only way we could have answered it is by interviewing the academics

We have identified unusual takes on the question

Consider mentioning limitations to the question, but don’t spend too much time on that. DON’T have a long list of things we couldn’t do.

Mention change in the intro and conclusion, but it does not need to be frequently referenced throughout our presentation à it shouldn’t be forced, it should just be convincing that we’re talking about change.

Put the bibliography on the flip side of our hand out

Someone needs to be a timekeeper


Make sure you are not being descriptive, be as analytical as possible

Interview with Dr. Helen Adams of the Geography Department

Our Research question: What perspectives do various disciplines contribute to the understanding of challenges of forced environmental migration?

Well first of all you can’t define forced migration. There is always an element of agency. So even in a war or a cyclone people stay. You can’t define forced migration as a category. But that wasn’t the question was it?

  1. Why are you interested in the topic of climate migration?

Because there was funding in it. I used to work at the UN in Bonn with the adaptation Team and my boss was encouraging me to do an PHD and I was in adaptation so I was wondering who is the best in adaptation in the UK and it was Neil Adger and I contacted him. He was getting a lot of requests and so it was not only about funding actually, he had got a lot of requests of people about what are the numbers of climate refugees going to be and he was working on the Foresight Project at that point and I aligned with his current interest.

  1. What are the implications of forced migration induced by climate change for your discipline? (new research maybe?)

Geography comes in because of its Environmental Deterministic past and I think Geography has gone forth and back against Environmental Determinism but then it has also gone too far of what the environment is. Geography is supposed to be about humans and their place and humans and their environment but also being critical of assigning too much role to the environment. Geography has a history of doing that and fighting back against that and then ignoring it. So maybe we have a place to grabble with the environment within society. But that raises the question about what is Geography? But because Geography is very much situated in place and the environment I think we are well positioned to research about what are the factors that converging on this place that are making people move. Maybe that does include the environment, maybe it doesn’t. I also think that Geographers are quite radical and are fighting injustice so I think perhaps, there is a role for us to play in being more political about what is happening to refugees around the world. There is a space in Geography for radical action.

  1. You have argued in your seminar and various papers that ‘there is no such thing as a climate migrant’ could you please elaborate on that?

Well there is no such thing as a climate migrant but obviously there is such thing as environment in the migration decision. So I suppose ‘there is no such thing as a climate migrant’ has two things: one is that migration is always multidimensional so migration decisions are never the result of one factor. So I always give the example of when I moved to London because of this job here but I also moved to be closer to my sisters. But in climate change there is this future aspect to it. We are actually experiencing climate change now but you are never going to know that you are experiencing it. Climate change doesn’t suddenly come. So actually, how do you separate a climate change migrant? Because it is something of the future. We are going to be part of it before we know we are a part of it. We are in climate change now but we don’t really know it. This is another reason why having a climate migrant is difficult, because when is it going to be climate change and not just the environment forcing people to move. Climate change is actually not just something in the future but you cannot label it like that. So that’s why I say ‘there is no such thing as a climate migrant’. But I also say it because people have come to accept it because it is so much in discourse now. It has been picked up in so many different ways. To politicise – or to depoliticise them, depending on the agenda. So people take it for granted. But how the hell do you even know? It is hard enough to identify who is a Syrian refugee, let alone when there is a war going on, let alone climate.

  1. If there is indeed no climate migrant, why do we still talk about it so often? Is this potentially problematic?

It depoliticises but also sensationalises the problem. On one hand, it is tapping into people’s fear of the other versus also the environment as an act of God as it is not their fault. So there is a tension between it is really not their fault but they are migrants and we don’t like them. So there is a tension between the two. I just reviewed this paper showing that people had more empathy towards migrants that come because of natural disaster (although there is no such thing as a natural disaster but anyway) to the US and the UK versus political or economic reasons. People showed more empathy because of this aspect of act of God. And also there is funds now. There are climate change adaptation funds. There is not much but there is a way of getting money for something that used to be very unpopular. I think the public discourse is masking the problem. This stuff about Syria being because of climate change. Just because we have a drought in the UK does not mean a war breaks out. It is not about the climate, it is about weak institutions or a lack of governance but it is not about the weather. So it does depoliticise it.

There is a paper by Jessie Ribo and he talks about the fact that now even natural disasters are not natural because they are made by humans who make climate change so even now you can’t say it is an act of God. It is not because we are now responsible for these impact. So we are now double responsible: we are responsible for these changes in climate that are leading to these refugees coming. If they are coming. So I think we still talk about it because people want a simple answer to a complicated question. But also people don’t want responsibility. So people don’t want to hear the real answer.

  1. Do you find that your research is benefitting or influenced by other disciplines? For example I read in one of your papers that you use a behaviourist approach for your research…

Oh yes always. But then what is Geography? So yes I use social psychology for the place attachment argument. And cognitive theory in migration decision making. But I also make use of the forced migration discipline. There is a whole world of forced migration I have never gotten into. For example, you are talking about inhabitability, so when people cannot go back and in that sense I start to borrow from diaspora studies. And more and more now from transnationalism so nobody exists in one place. So it is stupid in climate change we keep assuming that people move from A to B but we all know that we don’t just cut off our ties to our families. Everybody is linked to more than one place. I always get excited about other disciplines. So I also draw from Geopolitics, although I suppose that is Geography. And also from Cultural Geography. Although, I have never looked at place attachment from a cultural geography perspective but actually this would be interesting.

  1. How do you think your academic research can have an impact on future policies?

I’m going down the kind of idea that not being sensational, not being racist. I think all of this stuff is about racisms and xenophobia. So to me, it is about borders. Climate change migration is occurring in this world where everybody is shutting down their borders. So these liberal nation states are being so illiberal with their borders. It is about breaking down the barriers between you and I and ‘othering’. Because you could not have capitalism if you would not be ‘othering’. If people in Sub- Saharan African would not be worth less because they are black, you could not have capitalism. You could not have half of the world living like we are and the half differently and that would be ok. So how to you break down these differences? I don’t know how to do it. But I think Ethics of Care is important. It is about relations. So it comes from the idea of why are women more caring than men, when I do not believe in biological determinism. I do not believe that women are different from men but why is it that women have always been more caring. But it is actually because we are in the subordinate position. Because we are the subaltern, we care. So important here is no one is acting alone. Everything is relational. It is not about universal human rights but am I doing right by you now? And it is also about power relations. So we are all in these multiple power relations. So for me, this idea about doing right by people and not doing any harm but doing good and not by some universal standards. But then it becomes tricky as it is all relational. I suppose my research is maybe about trying to find different mechanisms by which you can start do undo some of this xenophobia. Why have people become so xenophobic and closed and start to get to get to the bottom of those fears. Where does this all come from? I mean migration does not have to be a security issue. That is just the way we are framing it and we take it for granted now. In the same way that the only reason that people are moving is a problem is because someone put a border there. People will have to leave their place. If there is a war, if there is a hurricane, people will have to move. The only problem is that somebody put an arbitrary line in their way. So if you think about it that way around you realise the problem is not the people, but the problem is the border. Rather than the problem being the people and the border taken for granted. You have got to question the assumption of borders.

  1. How do you believe we ought to combat these issues concerning climate migration today?

You have got to acknowledge the ‘othering’ and the racisms and the borders. Trump or Brexit have brought out that people have been left behind by capitalism. They are not racist or xenophobic but the places they live in have changed and all those people who do not understand why they are there and the media has manipulated them to blame certain people. So I think today you cannot look at climate change migration without looking at where migration is right now. So also the securitization of migration and securitization of climate change, so everything is securitized now but none of it has to be. I also think climate change migration should look more at migration. So one of the things I would like to look at is precarious labour. Climate change which is caused by capitalism is basically causing the climate to get worse through emissions and that is impacting on people who are already poor and vulnerable and it makes them mobile and makes them what the neoliberal system needs. It makes them a precarious, mobile work force. So this is what the Foresight Report was critiqued for, saying that migration is adaptation but it is really precarious adaptation of people who lost everything, cannot lobby for their rights, who would take any work they can take. So where is that line between forced and voluntary if you have nothing. So you say yes, but you say yes because you have got nothing else to do. You have no choice. If you are a Bangladeshi who just has lost everything in a Cyclone and you then go work in a brickfield and you then end up in debt bondage then this is not voluntary. So you can also get into supply chain management. So big companies where you could have possible interventions. Maybe they do not care about people but they do care about their supply chains. But that depends on if you want to work within capitalism or not. So maybe within the capitalist system you can achieve positive change by working with the system, working with the main players in the system. So instead of trying to fight against the neoliberal system we are in. But then you sell your soul and this depends if you are ready to do it. This also goes for NGO’s, they have to work within the framework of the government. It is maybe the same with capitalism. If you want to help people you have go with the system but it is to what degree you are willing to accept that system and not fight back against it.






Questions Geography Interview

  1. Why are you interested in the topic of climate migration? (when did you start your research, was there a trigger point?)
  2. What are the implications of forced migration induced by climate change for your discipline?
  3. You have argued in your seminar and various papers that ‘there is no such thing as a climate migrant’ could you please elaborate on that?
  4. If there is indeed no climate migrant, why do we still talk about it so often? Is this potentially problematic?
  5. Do you find that your research is influenced by other disciplines?
  6. How do you think your academic research can have an impact on future policies?
  7. How do you believe we ought to combat these issues concerning climate migration today?


Interview Philosophy of Religion


What could you say about the implications of forced migration induced by climate change in your discipline?

Well, to be perfectly honest, as I said I think that most English-speaking philosophy wouldn’t have a great deal to say about it, except perhaps at a very abstract level, when people may be speaking in terms of, you know, political theories, and their applications in the “real world”. On the other hand, there are more people in political philosophy in the last ten years in the UK who have started to suggest that some of the highly abstract moral theories and political theories of people like John Rawls, in his theory of justice, fail to engage with the real world. So, Bernard Williams who has died now but who wrote a number of late essays on the importance of politics and the importance of taking politics seriously in a real world context; and there is somebody at Cambridge called Raymond Geuss who has done a similar thing  – in fact his book is called ‘real politics’. So perhaps there is some move, so I would say that in English speaking philosophy, there is not much, people don’t directly engage in it that much I think. On the other hand within continental philosophy, I think it’s clear, you know, I was mentioning in the class someone whose name is Michel Serres; you know this is somebody who, along with others, writes about contemporary events, so he was somebody who spoke a lot about austerity, the all austerity thing in France in particular – sorry in Spain. So from that point of view some people are more engaged, but I, to be perfectly honest don’t think philosophers really have said a great deal about either climate change or about what happens within forced migration as a result of it, which is a surprise to me. But that is because philosophy considers itself a highly abstract and a purely conceptual discipline.

On the other hand in theology, within this parts of philosophy of religion that touches on theology, there has been much more of an interest in recent times in moving away from, for example, question like the justification through faith, “should you believe in the existence of God”, to question about the nature of embodied faith. So, how is it that people experience the environment – including the built environment, architecture and so on – in terms of its intimation of the idea of sacred place, or sacred space? And some people have been moving in that direction in the English speaking world in the philosophy of religion, you know, with half an eye on theology, in the last ten or fifteen years. And one aspect of that has been an attempt to try to think about the notion of space, and the importance of space and place for human beings, and the idea – the possible idea – that we might start to look again at the word in such a way that we could think of sacred spaces as being important. So for example someone who teaches at the university of Leads, Mark Wynn – actually a friend of mine – he has written a book called “Faith and Place”; and that’s what precisely he is trying to look, he is trying to look at the way in which space become place, in which empty spaces become place through human habitation, and human memory, and so on… My sense is that that move could eventually have something to say about the importance of space for human beings and how there is something deeply tragic in the idea of forced migration. With respect to the question of climate change, I don’t think that a lot of English speaking philosophers have said a big deal of thing about it, which is probably some kind of institutional blindness to be honest, unfortunately – but I suppose you can use that, because you will find a lot of sociologist and anthropologist thinking very differently.

Among the other questions, which one did you wished to answer?

This is the one I was thinking of, the eastern doctrine of pantheism and the Abrahamic doctrine of monotheism… [if we take the ‘eastern doctrine’ of pantheism and the Abrahamic doctrine of monotheism and creation, which one do you think appears as the best as a basis to condemn on the one hand climate changes as such, and on the other hand its human consequences – as exemplified in the case of climate refugees?] That’s a very interesting question because one of the – in my view, and other people have argued this – one of the persistent problem in Western Christian culture has been, from a philosophical and theological point of view, has been – well, two things : one thing is that some people say that Christian culture is essentially responsible for an exploitive attitude toward nature, this going back at least to the book of Genesis in the idea of man as being dominant, as having dominion over the rest of creation – and including women, of course – and some see this as having given rise to an instrumentalist view of nature, the consequence of which is for a long time not particularly significant – until now, with mass populations. This seems to me arguable. One of the things that some theologians and philosophers of religion have done recently is to try to say that these original text have been misread, and that the central concept is not the concept of domination or dominion, but the notion of stewardship. And of course that’s a very different notion. If you have got on your hands the idea of stewardship, you have got the thought of taking care of the natural world in such a way to leave it to your children and grandchildren and so on… My own view is that it is a very late interpretation, which was not the interpretation which has held sway for many, many centuries. So, this might be movement within Christianity – I don’t know about Judaism, but within Christianity – toward, as it were, a re-sacralisation of the world. But that leads me to the second point, because that seems to me completely clear that there is no doubt that Christianity has never really conceived of the natural world as sacred. There are spaces, sacred spaces, and of course parts of the natural world can be seen as sacred – insofar as, you know, the holy shrines, the Virgin Mary appears to somebody and a fountain or a spring or a river or something – but not the idea that in and of itself the natural world is sacred. Several reasons are interesting for that: one is because of a deeply ambivalent view that Christianity has had of the natural world – and indeed of the material world in general, including the human body. On the one hand Christianity must affirm it because God creates the world and sees that it is good. So for us to see life as a gift and affirm it is without a doubt to affirm the body and the materiality of existence. On the other hand, there is a line, a very strong line in Christianity, in Christian thought, toward the effect that the natural world is a distraction from spiritual things – I mean you see that very much worked out in the philosophy and theology of St Augustine for example. From that point of view, the material world is to be rejected, because it is a distraction, a kind of a snare, a kind of trap.

In particular, to center the subject, I’ve added to engage the issue – I mean the question was about how can this or these doctrines be a basis to condemn climate changes and in particular its human consequences – as it is exemplified in the case of climate refugees.

Yes of course! I’ll just add one other thing: one other aspect of this attitude of Christianity toward the natural world, and the natural world generally has been a suspicion, in the history of this all thing, this tradition of theology, some theologian have thought of god as beautiful, picking up really on platonic ideas of, you know, the Form of Beauty. Again, there has been a lot of suspicions toward the idea of the beauty of the world, again in seeing it as a kind of distraction from God. So the whole material world – in my view Christianity is schizophrenic: on the one hand it affirms and on the other it denies the material world. One the one hand it affirms beauty and on the other it denies it. Well the, the question in terms of the consequences – my view is that most philosophy – there has been some philosophy, so for example there is a distinction that some philosophers have made between shallow and deep ecology. Very roughly speaking that distinction has partly to do with the fact that shallow ecology says that the material world matters and that the preservation of the animals, and the plants, and the environment matters for our purposes, for our human purposes. So then in terms of climate change and migration of people – forced migration – that view immediately offers the thought that climate change is bad, that we should be doing something about it, we should be engaging with it – from the point of view that it is bad for us. Then there is the notion of so-called ‘deep ecology’, which is the idea that the natural world has value in and of itself, so irrespective of human beings, irrespective of whether it harms us, or indeed irrespective of whether it harms animals living in the forests, for example. The forest has a value in and of itself, and we should live it intact. And so from these two perspectives (the second one being much more controversial, many people don’t believe that, thinks that this notion of deep ecology works), both of them could only imply that we should take absolutely seriously the consequences of climate change, at least in terms of human beings and possibly in terms of the rest of the planet. There are some very right wing evangelical American Christians who think that climate change is a reality and it is a good thing, because it is going to bring the Kingdom of God closer more quickly, and… you can quote me, I think they are mad! But you see that shows also that there is a real problematic within these things about how Christianity conceptualizes its relation to the world.

Ok, so maybe a last question: there is in the whole issue of forced migration, an issue which is the intricacy of the causes, in that the is both human and non-human agencies that are difficult to distinguish, because of course climate change as such is both – there is a natural element but it is caused by humans, so all of this is very complicated. Do you think that philosophy, or theology, can have an impact in distinguishing, and especially in bringing people in front of their responsibilities?

Well, I think it can, if it stops doing a particular thing; the very, very traditional distinction within philosophy, philosophy of religion and theology between natural evil and moral evil. And as I’m sure you’re aware, this distinction is essentially the distinction you are saying is not clear – and I agree with you, it’s not clear. But the central thought is, you know, if I aggress somebody out of my own free-will it is moral evil, if there is a tornado which destroys my house that’s natural evil. But of course it seems to me that if that distinction was ever very helpful, it is not very helpful now, precisely for the reason that you gave: you know, if through agriculture we turn an area into a desert, and that means things can’t grow and it has of course an effect on the climate, it’s not just the climate or just us who are engaged in that. I think one of the thing that is very, very important, is that the discipline needs to reconceptualise human beings as part of the material world, and as responsible for it and with it, and that it works through us – instead of, and this is a big problem that Christianity has, thinking of us as the sort of pinnacle of creation, as the consequence of that is a difficulty in seeing our fellowship with other animals and the material world generally. Philosophy itself hasn’t really a great deal to say about this because it operates within these very strong distinctions between different types of evil, but again some people more recently have been wondering whether or not it is at all plausible, and have been seeking to undermine it. A very good thinker from my point of view is actually Simone Weil, because Simone Weil does valorise enormously the natural world, talking of its beauty. She does, in fact in a very mystical way, she says that we can see Christ’s face in the natural world (I’m not sure anyone quite know what that means…). The other important thing is that she emphasises again and again in her writings the way human beings are material through and through and are one with the material world. She seems to have a lot of very interesting and helpful things to say in philosophy, and from a philosophical – partly Christian – point of view, about the necessity of reconceptualising ourselves: but that’s what is needed, there is no doubt about it in my mind that philosophy needs to reconceptualise many of the distinctions that it makes.

So, as a final thought, what would be your first step, the most immediate thing we should, we ought to do to face this issue?

You mean, as philosophers and theologians…?


Hum… Probably give up philosophy and theology and go work for a NGO, actually! Which is something that I wanted to do on many occasions but I’m too late in my career to do it unfortunately… Well yes, but seriously, I have a friend who is a philosopher, who is at the green party, and campaigns for them and, supports environmental charities, and wants to be a green MP. Frankly I think that that’s what philosophers need to do; it’s so easy just to theorize about problem without actually going and doing anything, and that person is very admirable from that point of view. But I’m not sure – you know the discipline needs to open itself to ordinary, concrete, practical realities in a way that, I think, is lamentably missing, actually, in the discipline.

So I’m afraid in a way it is a slightly negative, sceptical point of view, but…

… I think it is very interesting. So thank you very much!

My pleasure.

Interview with 4th year PhD student at the Dickson Poon School of Law

Because his answers were quite short and my knowledge of law is limited, I asked a lot of follow up questions in order to get a better understanding of his position.

Here is the transcript of the interview:


– Tell me about your research and what you are trying to find out.

So my research is about the impact of human rights on refugee law. International refugee law is based on the 1951 Refugee Convention. We’re going through a period where after 1991 human rights has become more integrated into refugee law and this is seen as a way of saving refugee law, making it more international, increasing the uniformity of decisions because it was previously seen as domestic decisions. It’s generally seen as a good thing, my research is arguing that it’s a bad thing because it erases the specific qualities of the refugee i.e. being outside their country of origin, being persecuted, as well as the other core tendencies of the Refugee Convention. If you take courses today about the Refugee Convention they try to tell you that it’s a human rights instrument but it’s clearly not. It’s based on being in a different country and you get gradations of rights, so stage 1, stage 2, stage 3 of refugee rights and they’re all directed towards assimilating refugees into a host state.


– That’s very interesting because one of the biggest problems with environmental displacement is that it’s mostly internal – within the same country. Do you consider that because of this, they can never be considered refugees – or that they shouldn’t be?

From my perspective their case is slightly different because the Refugee Convention is based on persecution so they’re missing this persecution element and that gives them the trump card outside normal immigration rules. So I’m arguing that it’s built into the social contract.

But how do you define persecution because if climate change is effecting people and is man-made..?

It’s harder to prove with environmental refugees but I completely agree that it’s a western development issue and I also agree that a lot of environmental disasters aren’t just natural, they’re being exacerbated by a poor response.

So you think that there should be some other framework for environmentally displaced people because it can’t fit into the refugee status set forth by the convention?

It could but it requires such a leap of faith, already getting the original refugees who were envisaged by the Convention to qualify is a real struggle so, environmental refugees, I agree they should be, but it’s so much further removed, it’s quite idealistic. But it’s a good goal, it’s a worthwhile thing.


– How do you think your research could translate into policy, do you have anything in view in that regard?

I do. The Refugee Convention isn’t a perfect creation. It’s lonesome in scope and for years and years afterward it attracted a lot of criticism. That’s why human rights has come in to change it – to give international protection, to broaden its scope. But for me the most important part about it was that it had an exile bias so for people who were outside their countries of origin and who were assimilating. This has been reversed by human rights, to a containment bias, which aids the project of state building in the West.

Why does it do this, can you explain a little more?

It contains refugees in their own countries even if there’s instability in their region. It’s something that the West has avoided.

How does it contain them within their countries – or try to do so?

Human rights has shown that leaving your country of origin is no longer a fundamental requirement so they’re providing assistance in the country of origin where the instability has happened and they grouped together different groups of potential refugees into internally displaced refugees. They’re being treated in the country of origin and that helps contain them there.

Is this done through humanitarian aid?

It’s done through the UNHCR, NGOs and other human right programs.

Are there any NGOs focused on bringing them into other countries?

Not really. As an NGO, it’s quite a limited power structure so you rely on existing law and on donations heavily. So you can do a lot of good as an NGO but you have to rely on existing limits meaning your options are quite limited.

If you could change the way in which the UNHCR intervenes, how would you envisage it?

Tying it back to your earlier question, the UNHCR originally is meant to have this legal authority to help interpret the convention but it hasn’t done that. Since the start there’s been a two-track system, providing legal assistance to European refugees and providing material assistance to non-Western refugees. One has to do with containment and one has to do with assimilation into the country.

Okay. So you think they should do more of the assimilation?

Yeah. I think that’s the ultimate goal of the convention. So the way I’m going to try to affect policies is to point out that the convention is not perfect but that there are international obligations which the country signed up for which they have to honor – so it’s a starting point of doing some good.


– Moving forward do you want to keep working in research or do you see yourself working as a lawyer or within an NGO..?

Probably academia for a while and then eventually a barrister.

How can you help your research translate into policy? Is there anything you can do to encourage that transition?

I think because there aren’t that many experts in refugee law around the world, if you do write something well in academia, it will filter down to the courts quite easily. So I’m hoping at the moment that that’s a possibility. But there are different strategies of doing things. Human rights as an academic discourse is quite good in terms of having non-Western voices and international dialogue but refugee law doesn’t have that. There are two main universities which are involved in the knowledge production of refugee law – Toronto and Oxford. They’re meant to be two different positions – polar opposites – but they kind of argue exactly the same thing.

So would you like to work in one of those institutions?

No, absolutely not. I think there are a lot of good academics around the world and if my research doesn’t have the initial effect that I hope – fingers crossed it will – there are ways of forming links and partnerships with people across the world and making yourself heard that way.

Okay. And how would you want to work with refugees as a barrister?

I wouldn’t be a barrister as a main profession. I’d do it for the thrill of helping people.

Pro bono?

Yes. There are huge cuts in legal aids so I’d do it to help in that way.


– How could the international community contribute to establishing laws to protect internally displaced people, without compromising state sovereignty?

The problem with the UN is that it takes a long time to do anything at all. They have a lot of frameworks for the internally displaced but they do things which appear as purposefully kind of stupid at the start. At the internally displaced convention they had, they ignored the fact that there are different types of movements around the world. For example, in Columbia they moved not in large numbers but in small numbers because they’re escaping guerrilla warfare and that wasn’t recognized in one of the early conventions and it has been subsequently. So they keep on producing these imperfect modules to give the idea of incremental progress without showing actual progress. It takes a long time to produce anything worthwhile at the UN because of the institutional structure.

So do you think there should be smaller structures put in place?

It’s hard because unless it’s a bona fide UN structure then it won’t have the same force or legal and moral authority. It’s an interesting question, I’m not entirely sure what the solution is. It requires strong governance and moral governance but that’s very utopian.


– In the research you do about refugees, do you encounter a lot of discourse about environmental refugees, is it a big part of it?

It’s not a huge part of it but that’s because I focus a lot of history and jurisprudence over refugee laws.

So would you say that it’s quite a contemporary issue?

Yes, it’s picked up recently, in the past decade or so – it’s become more of a dominant idea than a discourse. But there is hope for it. There is international environmental law which has also picked up recently – you’ll see them developing in tandem.



Proposed questions interview Philosophy of Religion

A core problem laying at the heart of climatic forced migrants issue is the problem of international recognition; the status of refugees only apply to people submitted to human factors (persecutions and conflicts). Do you think that there is some philosophical justification in the distinction of environmental and ‘political’ (in the largest sense) forced migrants? Should be climatic forced migrants assimilated to the current status of refugees or would it be wiser to distinguish them if future international dispositions were taken?

Another issue with climate forced migrants is the intricacy of the causes of their forced migration: human and non-human agencies are difficult to distinguish (factors like poverty and lack of institutions are playing a role that can be linked to the peculiarities of the environment – at the same time, the environment itself is often impacted by human agency, first of all climate change). Do you think a philosophical, ethical discussion can help to distinguish responsibilities and bring the human side to repair the damages it is causing?

Recently, the Pope has produced an authoritative document – an encyclical – on ‘integral ecology’, showing concern for the consequences of climate changes on populations. Do you think that religions are increasing their awareness of these issues and that they can have an effective influence on the moral assessment of the consequences of climate change on human lives? Have theological developments any impacts on the world of opinions?

As the problem is held by the academic world to be on the rise and to represent “the foremost human crises of our times” (Myers, 2002), there is little global awareness of the importance of the issue. Who do you think is the best placed to raise concern about this moral issue: the philosopher or the theologian – and why?

A concrete example: if we take the ‘eastern doctrine’ of pantheism and the Abrahamic doctrine of monotheism and creation, which one do you think appears as the best as a basis to condemn on the one hand climate changes as such, and on the other hand its human consequences – as exemplified in the case of climate refugees?

Diane Archer (IIED) interview

What exactly do you do in a professional capacity?


Background on urban research and urban community driven development – community led initiatives for upgrading housing and reducing poverty. We work on a body of knowledge about what it means for a city to become development, in terms of governance. What processes can support a more resilient city.

More recently, working on humanitarian crises in urban contexts, in what ways can humanitarian agencies respond more effectively in an urban crisis such as an earthquake or a refugee crisis in cities and towns. There is a degree of environment in the work I do, like the climate change resilience work and also the humanitarian crises where some of the crises are caused by factors such as typhoons etc.


How do you believe we ought to combat the issues of forced climate change migration today? (legal change, emphasise development, institutional change?)


It would be important to recognize that in general, people wouldn’t want to leave if theres a way they can avoid having to migrate. So one option would be to see what can be done to adapt the living conditions of the person so they can continue to remain in the same context. However in certain contexts that is of course not possible, like in Bangladesh where the ground beneath some villages is completely eroding so they cant actually physically stay in the same place. And in some cases it might just be too expensive to invest in climate change adaptation and It might just be better to move people off the land. If people are being forced to move because of the impacts of climate change, the first change that needs to be made is making people fully aware of what the implications are for them and their future, what their rights are so they can make informed decisions about where to move. I think we’re finding that people very often move to cities, in Bangladesh for example a lot of people are moving to Dhaka, so one of the questions is what can be done to attract people to place where they will have job opportunities and safe places to live so that they don’t end up in a similar situation when they do move to a city where they’ll be living in a slum and their house will get flooded every few months or so. That might put them in a cycle of poverty. It’s hard to say that theres only one solution, everything is interlinked. There are actions that need to be taken by the person who migrates themself, to inform themselves and to try and find somewhere to live where they’ll have the best opportunities, and where they’re least likely to be faced with similar climate risks in their lives. There’s also a role for civil society to educate people about whether moving somewhere will have certain risks/hazards/challenges. There’s a role for government as well to accommodate people who are being forced to move because of climate change. And if we’re talking about cities, that means providing sufficient housing and infrastructure for those people arriving in the city, but at the same time we need to recognize that if we’re talking about cities in the global south, they don’t have the capacity to provide adequate housing and sanitation to people already living in their towns and cities, let alone new people who might be moving in be it for job opportunities or escaping climate change. Promoting legal change to recognize the forced climate migrant seems to be an international issue, in which case they might be able to get refugee status possibly, but that’s not a guarantee their sitation will be any better depending on where they decide to move to because refugee processing takes a very long time as well. Essentially I’m saying that it’s a very tricky one. But also in the middle of this, some people might chose to migrate as a result of climate change but on a seasonal basis, so they might move to cities during certain periods of the year, then return to their home towns or villages during the harvest season, so there might be a cyclical process of migration related to harvest which needs to be recognized too.


Do you find that the way you carry out your fieldwork is impacted by academic research/do you believe that academic research is benefitting enquiry into the field.


Yes I think if you’re working in a research field it is important to stay up to date in terms of what research is out there. If you’re talking about resilience and resilience in academic contexts, there has been an evolution in terms of the meaning of resilience, especially in terms of resilience to climate change, that has happened through academic discourse which has drawn on practical examples on the ground to inform what resilience means to what it looks like in practice. Those academic papers have been used to shape new frameworks, new definitions around these key terms like resilience so that we can then apply those models/contexts/frameworks in our own research or try and test them out on the ground or develop/add to the existing framework. So, if we’re talking about key concepts, then definitely academic research is really important in terms of informing the way we will approach our research and then, in terms of climate change, you cant ignore the ITCC reports that come out once every 7 years I believe, and they are basically a massive literature review about everything that has been written about climate change; both the climate science itself but also in terms of the impact of climate change on the world and how people are responding to climate change, so that if you go and look at the first to the most recent ITCC report, youll see that it has expanded hugely and that reflects the scale of research done on climate change, and how it is growing and evolving. More and more case studies from the ground appear in scientific literature about climate change. Fieldwork informs academic research and visa versa.


How and when do you foresee forced climate change migration becoming integrated within international law?


I think its something that certain states are pushing for within the UN framework convention for climate change, I think for example places like Kiribati or other small island states who are experiencing climate change first hand, are pushing in the international arenas for their people to have some recognition in terms of when they have to move, I don’t know the specifics of this but if anything were to happen if would take place through the UNFCCC process but that might take some time because they are international negotiations with every country in the world. I think it would be through that international forum that certain countries who see this as a priority will be pushing for some sort of recognition.


Meeting 14/3/17

March 14 TAD meeting


Sietske – no response

Maya – no response from lawyer but will email PhD student

Alex – philosophy of religion meeting

Clara – awaiting 2nd response

Zak – Skype call tomorrow morning


Sietske à focus on context research, and will potentially find historical perspective

Maya à legal history/issues developed through personal readings

Clara à if interview falls through, then will read all works of Helen Adams related to the subject matter

Alex à will conduct interview and also do additional readings surrounding philosophical perspective


Questions for NGO: do you have any personal experience with forced climate migration?


Research question thoughts:

  • Focus on the challenges that forced migrants face?
  • Impact of scholarship on the real world? (Beneficial perspective)
  • Focus on the challenges faced by the international community?
  • Wider explanation, why we should focus less on the international community and more on the domestic framework?
  • How can each discipline respond to the issue? What answers can the different academic disciplines provide?
  • How do various disciplines contribute to a broader understanding of the challenges within forced climate change migration?
  • We should try to eventually reemphasise how our disciplines are adapting to change
  • We define the problem through change
  • How different disciplines can aid to bring about change?



What questions can our disciplines answer?


What perspectives do various disciplines contribute to understanding challenges of forced environmental migration?


We have asked the NGO because we realize limitations within the research question and academia more broadly, so we can gain a broader understanding

Group Meeting 9.03.2017

Here are the notes from the group meeting with Helen last friday:

  • Waiting for answer’s from academics
  • Should we meet before the interviews to discuss what sort of answers or elements we are really looking for
  • Focusing on academia and including NGO’s answer at the end.


Research question brainstorm

  • How is this environmental migration being understood and acted upon by academia and real-world organisations?
  • Further question: critiquing academia and its impact on the real world?
  • How do the interviewees believe their disciplines impact environmental refugees?
  • How are people using their research to understand the new phenomenon?



  • Terminology
    • Deciding on a term we will use throughout the project, so that it remains cohesive
    • Deciding on the exact phrasing of the research questions.
    • Engineering questions in hindsight


  • Manageability
    • Do we need to interview five academics?
    • Or will it be enough with an NGO and 2 academics
    • Do we need a cut-off date – in the next week?

What seems to be our most pressing issue at the moment is making sure we manage our time correctly as the deadline approaches. We need a realistic approach, and take into consideration the possibility of cutting down the number of interviews depending on the responses we get.