How Will Climate Change Affect Mobility? New Project Examines Sponsored Community Relocation in Fiji

Migration and displacement around the world are on the rise, and one of the engines of this mobility is climate change, which contributes to rapid-onset natural disasters as well as slow-onset impacts such as chronic drought and desertification. Researchers have predicted that the number of climate change migrants worldwide may reach up to 200 million by 2050, while climate change-linked prolonged drought has already been implicated as a factor in recent migration crises in Africa, Western Europe and the US. Nowhere is climate change impacting households and communities more than in small island developing states (SIDS), where a rise in the frequency and magnitude of ocean storms, rising sea levels, soil salinity, erosion and other impacts are increasingly jeopardising the physical and economic security of coastal communities.

The ProSPER.Net project, ‘Safe Havens: Relocating SIDS Communities Threatened by Climate Change’, will investigate relocation of vulnerable communities in Fiji, a country that is widely recognised as a leader in climate change adaptation in the South Pacific. Fiji has attracted broad interest for its efforts to identify vulnerable communities, particularly those along the coasts or in flood-prone river basins, and to offer assistance in resettling these communities on safer land, in conformance with recently issued planned relocation guidelines. However, relocation is regarded as an option of last resort, a complex and protracted endeavour necessitating an initial request to move by the community, negotiation on land acquisition, financing, livelihood assistance, coordination by relevant stakeholders and human rights safeguards. Initial relocation projects in Fiji have faced challenges in securing funding, in planning new communities that meet with residents’ approval and in project implementation. Similar relocation projects are also being carried out by several non-governmental organisations, with differing guidelines, assessment criteria, strengths and vulnerabilities.

This research will seek to identify challenges and considerations for successful relocation by both government and NGO programs. Recommendations will be shared with small island developing state (SIDS) governments and the public by holding local workshops in Fiji and disseminating an online policy brief. By creating an online resource kit, the researchers will also provide university lecturers with tertiary-level learning content on the emerging issue of climate change-induced mobility. The project will be led by Dr. Jane Singer of the Graduate School of Global Environmental Studies at Kyoto University, who has published widely on government-planned relocation and resettlement programs, with the collaboration of two noted researchers on climate-linked mobility and adaptation, Dr. Eberhard Weber of the University of the South Pacific in Suva, Fiji, and Dr. Ryo Fujikura of Hosei University in Tokyo.