Role of migration and remittances in climate change adaptation

The role of migration and remittances in climate change adaptation is an emerging policy issue. Remittances, both financial and social, provide direct linkage between migration and climate change adaptation. Financial remittances can be a ‘local’ financing source to address some of the unmet adaptation needs of the migrant-sending households in the origin communities across the Hindu Kush Himalayan (HKH) region. Social remittances can provide the skills, information, and knowledge required to build adaptive capacity to environmental stresses or shocks (for example: drought, riverine floods, flash floods, etc.). However, this will require a supportive policy framework and institutional arrangement that would facilitate access to information and technical guidance at various levels (national, provincial, and local). At the moment, there is limited understanding of the relationship between migration and adaptation planning in the HKH region.

Photo: ICIMOD/Alex Treadway

As much as the livelihoods of mountain people are largely dependent on natural resource, many mountain households adopt a multi-income livelihood system which combines agricultural (farming and animal husbandry) and non-agricultural income sources (wage employment, trade, or remittances). Migration for work is a traditional livelihood strategy in the mountain communities across the HKH region.

However, the public and policy discourses in the HKH region ignore the benefits of migration: employment, purchasing power, food security, asset creation, livelihoods diversification (e.g. income, sector, and geographic), disaster risk reduction, changes in attitude, knowledge, or skills. At the same time, there is a lack of empirical evidence on the mechanisms to support migration-related actions and activities - such as the delivery of social and financial remittances – that can build adaptive capacity of the migrant-sending households and resilience of the origin communities to environmental stresses and shocks. There is a need to better understand the impacts of migration on the adaptation needs of the women members of the migrant-sending households. 

Adaptation planning and practices in the HKH region must explore the circumstances under which human mobility can avoid the erosion of adaptive capacities (social, financial, human, physical, and natural) that are detrimental to climate change adaptation or enhance adaptive capacities that is required to effectively respond to risks arising as a result of the effects of environmental change, including climate shocks and stresses. To address these issues, ICIMOD’s Himalayan Climate Change Adaptation Programme (HICAP) 

has initiated the following activities:   

  • Multi-stakeholder consultations: A series of multi-stakeholder consultations in China, India, Nepal, and Pakistan to raise awareness of the role of labour migration in climate change adaptation, and to assess the needs and capacities of the national stakeholders. These multi-stakeholder consultations would bring together relevant government agencies and ministries, NGOs, community-based organizations, and international agencies. Such multi-stakeholder consultations has already been organized in Kathmandu (2011, 2012, and 2013) and Islamabad (2012 and 2013). In 2015, multi-stakeholder consultations will be organized in Guwahati (India) and Kunming (China).
  • Case studies: There is a lack of empirical research on the role of labour migration and remittances in climate change adaptation in the HKH region. To better understand the complex inter-linkages between labour migration, remittance, and climate change adaptation, case studies are being conducted in the Eastern Brahmaputra sub-basin of the Assam province in India and Upper Salween-Mekong sub-basin in the Yunnan Province of China. These case studies are based on a mixed method approach: socio-economic and gender disaggregated focus group discussion, household and village surveys, and key informant interviews. 
  • Policy review: An appraisal of existing labour migration, remittance, and climate change adaptation policies is required to encourage the use of financial and social remittances in climate-smart practices. Existing labour migration and remittance policies must be reviewed in the context of climate change adaptation in China and India with a special focus on the mountain/hill regions.
  • Action research: An action research that aims to demonstrate a sustainable, scalable, and replicable approach to build the adaptive capacity of migrant-sending households in the HKH region is being initiated. This is done by leveraging the investment of remittances in flood preparedness through financial literacy and flood preparedness trainings for women from migrant-sending households. Further, associated community level extension services have been initiated in the Indian state of Assam. A better understanding of the relationship between labour migration, remittances, and adaptive capacity will increase the ability to foster desirable outcomes when a migrant-sending community experiences a climatic shock or stress.
For further information, please contact: 
Migration and Population Specialist