Does climate change influence people’s migration decisions in Maldives?
Within our international team of colleagues from University College London (UCL), UK; Univesity of Agder, Norway; Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), Germany; Virginia Commonwealth University, USA; and Masaryk University in Brno we published the paper based on data from three independent field researches from various parts of the Maldives island state. This state is located in the Indian Ocean and is one of four small and low-lying island countries (the other three are in the Pacific), where the highest natural point above sea level is 2.4 meters! And according to some scenarios published in the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC), most populated areas should be flooded by sea level rise the end of this century. However, before that, the Maldives will lose their drinking water resources. In our field surveys, we focused on obtaining information about the perception of environmental changes in the local population and their impact in deciding whether or not to migrate.
The influence of climate change and perceptions of it on people’s migration decisions has received significant prominence, especially for people living on low-lying islands. To contribute to this literature, this paper uses Maldives as a case study for exploring the research question: How does climate change influence or not influence people’s migration decisions in Maldives? Previous work tends to start from a disciplinary climate change perspective, while this study combines migration, mobility, and island studies perspectives, within which climate change sits.
As well, rather than focusing on the area around the capital, Malé, as with many previous studies, the 113 interviews here were conducted in eight islands across three atolls. The method was qualitative, semi-structured, face-to-face interviews using purposive sampling of ordinary people. Contrary to a view of islanders preparing to flee their islands as “climate change refugees”, the interviewees provided nuanced and varied responses. They rarely identified the potential of future impacts due to climate change as influencing their migration-related decisions. When migration was considered, it was chiefly internal movement seeking a better standard of living via improved services, better living conditions, and more job opportunities. If migration related to potential climate change impacts might happen, then it was assumed to be in the future for decisions then. This lack of influence of climate change-related perceptions on Maldivians’ migration decisions fits well within island mobilities studies, from which climate change perspectives could adopt wider contexts.