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One step forward, two steps back?: the fading contours of (in)justice in competing discourses on climate migration

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<mark>Journal publication date</mark>12/2017
<mark>Journal</mark>Geographical Journal
Issue number4
Volume183
Number of pages11
Pages (from-to)348-358
Publication StatusPublished
Early online date24/09/16
<mark>Original language</mark>English

Abstract

In recent debates on climate change and migration, the focus on the figure of ‘climate refugees’ (tainted by environmental determinism and a crude understanding of human mobility) has given ground to a broader conception of the climate–migration nexus. In particular, the idea that migration can represent a legitimate adaptation strategy has emerged strongly. This appears to be a positive development, marked by softer tones that de-securitise climate migration. However, political and normative implications of this evolution are still understudied. This article contributes to filling the gap by turning to both the ‘climate refugees’ and ‘migration as adaptation’ narratives, interrogating how and whether those competing narratives pose the question of (in)justice. Our analysis shows that the highly problematic ‘climate refugees’ narrative did (at least) channel justice claims and yielded the (illusory) possibility of identifying concrete rights claims and responsibilities. Read in relation to the growing mantra of resilience in climate policy and politics, the more recent narrative on ‘migration as adaptation’ appears to displace justice claims and inherent rights in favour of a depoliticised idea of adaptation that relies on the individual migrant's ability to compete in and benefit from labour markets. We warn that the removal of structural inequalities from the way in which the climate–migration nexus is understood can be seen as symptomatic of a shrinking of the conditions to posing the question of climate justice.