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The United Nations University (UNU) is the academic arm of the United Nations (UN). It bridges the academic world and the UN system. Its goal is to develop sustainable solutions for current and future problems of humankind in all aspects of life. Through a problem-oriented and interdisciplinary approach it aims at applied research and education on a global scale. UNU was founded in 1973 and is an autonomous organ of the UN General Assembly. The University comprises headquarters Tokyo, Japan, and more than a dozen Institutes and Programmes worldwide.


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GMF Transatlantic Study Team on Climate Change & Migration

Funded by The German Marshall Fund of the United States, the project of the Transatlantic Study Team on Climate Change and Migration was proposed by the Institute for the Study of International Migration, in collaboration with UNU-EHS, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), Migration Dialogue, the Bonn International Center for Conversion (BICC), Adelphi Research and the Overseas Development Institute.

The Transatlantic Study Team 2009/2010 investigated the impact of climate change on migration patterns. Environmental deterioration, including natural disasters, rising sea level, and drought problems in agricultural production, could cause millions of people to leave their homes in the coming decades. GMF's study team addressed knowledge gaps and helped bring the topic to the attention of policymakers and other stakeholders in Europe, the US and in some affected countries.  

Time Span

The first project phase took place June 2009 until May 2010. The project is extended until December 2011.


The study team on climate change and migration has delivered four main outcomes in the past year:

  1. Held project meetings and high-level policy dialogues in Berlin, Washington D.C. and Brussels

  2. Completed site visits to Senegal, Mexico and Bangladesh and completed field reports

  3. Wrote policy background papers

  4. Final project report and summary for policymakers.

The research and site visits have reinforced to the study team that the interconnections between climate change and migration are complex. The country visits emphasized the intertwined role of environmental and climatic factors with other kinds of factors in driving mobility. 

The complexity stood out in three areas:

  1. challenges in identifying determinative causation between climate change and migration, particularly given the extent to which local environmental factors and unsustainable development practices affect migration trends and, in turn, exacerbate global climate change

  2. role of migration as an adaptation mechanism

  3. the absence of appropriate policy tools to address migration induced in whole or in part by environmental change and degradation.

The Role of UNU-EHS

Within the framework of ongoing research on environmentally induced migration, UNU-EHS, together with Georgetown University, is co-chair of the German Marshall Study Team on Climate Change and Migration. Other research results from UNU-EHS projects on the theme can be found on our website and at www.each-for.eu

This work, supported by a generous grant from the German Marshall Fund, supported UNU-EHS and Georgetown University to assemble a team of experts to examine four channels through which the environment influences human migration and displacement:

  1. increased frequency and magnitude of weather-related natural disasters, such as hurricanes and cyclones that destroy infrastructure and livelihoods and require people to relocate for shorter or longer periods

  2. changes in weather patterns that contribute to longer-term drying trends that affect access to essential resources such as water and negatively impact the sustainability of a variety of environment-related livelihoods including agriculture, forestry, fishing, etc.

  3. rising sea levels that render coastal and low-lying areas uninhabitable in the longer-term

  4. competition over natural resources that may exacerbate pressures that contribute to conflict, which in turn precipitates displacement.

The aim of the study group was to increase understanding of the interconnections as well as possible policy frameworks for addressing migration that may result from these occurrences. The central finding of the project is that migration is indeed a mechanism through which people manage the risks associated with variability and change in climate.

Dr Koko Warner, Head of the Environmental Migration, Social Vulnerability & Adaptation Section is Co-Chair of the project. She helped prepare and lead project meetings and policy briefings in Berlin, Washington, D.C. and Brussels. She led the Study Team visit in Senegal, together with local partners. She authored a Senegal field report, and wrote a background paper “Assessing Institutional and Governance Needs related to Environmental Change and Human Migration”, contributed to the final project report and summary for policymakers.