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Paper: Why climate migration is not managed retreat: Six justifications

Updated: Nov 11

Ajibade, I, M Sullivan and M Haeffner. (2020). Why climate migration is not managed retreat: Six justifications. Global Environmental Change 65: 102187. doi.org/10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2020.102187


This perspective piece makes a case for a more rigorous treatment of managed retreat as a politically, legally, and economically distinct type of relocation that is separate from climate migration. We argue that the use of both concepts interchangeably obfuscates the problems around climate-induced mobilities and contributes to the inconsistencies in policy, plans, and actions taken by governments and organizations tasked with addressing them. This call for a disentanglement is not solely an academic exercise aimed at conceptual clarity, but an effort targeted at incentivizing researchers, practitioners, journalists, and advocates working on both issues to better serve their constituencies through alliance formation, resource mobilization, and the establishment of institutional pathways to climate justice. We offer a critical understanding of the distinctions between climate migration and managed retreat grounded in six orienting propositions. They include differential: causal mechanisms, legal protections, rights regimes and funding structures, discursive effects, implications for land use, and exposure to risks. We provide empirical examples from existing literature to contextualize our propositions while calling for a transformative justice approach to addressing both issues.


Rectangular spectrum diagram with reds ont he oter edges, going to orange, yellow, and then green in the middle. Red of either outer edge stands for high risk (managed retreat on the left, climate migration on the right). Green in the middle represents low risk or successful resettlement.
Fig. 1. Spectrum of risks and climate-induced mobilities. The thick arrows in the diagram represent institutional or community support while the thin arrow refers to minimal to no institutional support (Source: Authors).

Why climate migration is not managed retreat - Six justifications
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