United Nations University

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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Where the Rain Falls

During the 15th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in December 2009, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees described climate change as a risk multiplier and an accelerator of human mobility. Changing weather patterns, which include less predictable seasons and increasingly erratic rainfall, are one of the most important but least understood impacts of global warming. CARE International and the UN University (UNU) have formed a strategic partnership to explore the differential impacts of changing weather patterns on livelihoods, food security and human mobility. Research will be conducted during mid-2011 in eight countries (Guatemala, Peru, Kenya, Tanzania, India, Bangladesh, Thailand and Vietnam).

Emerging research indicates that environmental changes including climate change currently play a role in human migration and displacement. As environmental changes increase, migration pressures related to these changes may also grow. For many areas in the world, more erratic weather, rising sea levels and other climate change impacts will motivate voluntary migration, forced migration, resettlement or other forms of human mobility. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) updates in late 2009 indicate that some observed impacts of climate change - especially changes in rainfall and sea level rise - are unfolding at rates not anticipated previously. It is, therefore, possible that widely held expectations underestimate the problem. If true, then environmentally induced migration and displacement may become the defining humanitarian issue of coming decades.

Despite the significance of this challenge, we still have little research-based knowledge or conceptual understanding about how climate change actually affects human migration and displacement - despite widespread anecdotal evidence, generalized assumptions and recent research findings. Research and policy dialogues are beginning to address these gaps. Nonetheless, informal assessments indicate that some of the most complicated, and important, questions are being bypassed or explored at scales too small to yield the ´kinds of insights and understanding that are required.

Supported by MacArthur Foundation and AXA Re, the project is co-chaired by UNU and CARE International (CARE USA, CARE France and CARE´s Climate Change Center of Expertise). This multi-year activity aims to help stakeholders better understand and effectively address the relationship among changing weather patterns, food security, social inequalities and human mobility. In doing so, it will enhance societal resilience and stability in the face of climatic and other environmental changes. The project will undertake fieldwork in Latin America, Africa and Asia, and will move methodological approaches for investigating the relationship between climate change variability and climate change, and societal phenomena like migration forward.

Countries supported by MacArthur Foundation include Guatemala, Bangladesh, Ghana and Vietnam. Countries supported by the AXA Group (Peru, India, Thailand and Tanzania) will also receive funds for community-based adaptation climate change interventions.

Time Span


Key Goals

  1. Conceptualize the relationship between changing weather patterns (specifically rainfall and shifting seasons), food security, social inequalities (especially regarding gender) and different forms of human mobility.

  2. Assess the potential for changing weather patterns to become a major driver of human migration and displacement in coming decades (from the present to 2030 or 2040).

  3. Enable a range of stakeholders, including southern civil society organizations, to influence policies, plans and practical interventions in processes such as the UNFCCC climate talks; the work of UN humanitarian and development organizations; and specific committees such as the Economic and Financial Committee of the United Nations General Assembly; and regional discussions about human mobility.

Working Methods & Activities

  • joint national and international, interdisciplinary research teams for each case study
  • combination of research methods (household survey, Participatory Rural Approaches & expert interviews)
  • risk research

  • creation of an agent based model on climate change and human coping strategies including migration
  • publication of eight Case Study Reports, Synthesis Reports for policymakers and academic papers
  • community-based adaptation projects

  • develop tools to measure and monitor changes in adaptive capacity

  • advocacy

  • public and business-to-business education/behavioural change.

    Project partners


    Funded by



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    Where the Rain Falls 


    Visit the download area to access all material published during the project!