Dr Christopher McDowell
School of Social Sciences, Department of International Politics, Political Anthropologist
It is currently estimated that in the region of 40 million people are displaced and resettled annually as a result of international or localised conflict, land acquisition to make way for large infrastructure projects such as dams or roads, or following natural disasters. The latter are the largest single cause of displacement. In addition, it is envisaged that anthropogenic global warming through sea level rise and more erratic weather will create new flows of so-called 'climate refugees'.
In response to the challenge of climate change, developing countries' governments are evolving adaptation and mitigation programmes. However, these and other interventions are likely to have a significant impact on society, including land use change, future land acquisitions and ultimately population displacement and resettlement.
Dr Christopher McDowell, Head of the Department of International Politics, is a political anthropologist and an international expert on the displacement and resettlement of populations in the developing world. He regularly advises governments, non-governmental organisations and international organisations such as the UN, the Asian Development Bank and the World Bank on resettlement operations.
The recent study into Global Environmental Migration undertaken by Dr McDowell for the Foresight Programme run by the UK Government's Chief Scientific Adviser, Professor Sir John Beddington, formed part of the research into Global Environmental Management. This programme considers policy challenges that may confront the UK in 30 and 60 years' time.
Dr McDowell's research examined the likely social impact of actions undertaken by developing countries' governments to mitigate against the impacts of climate change; for example, the social consequences of land use change and internationally funded climate change adaptation and mitigation projects.
The study cautions that some adaptation and mitigation measures - afforestation and reafforestation, increased use of hydropower and the construction of sea defences - will require land use change and thus increase the number of people displaced. Furthermore, these significant changes often take place in a legal context in which the rights of resettlers are poorly protected and resettlement operations are equally poorly planned and managed. Drawing on his past experience of evaluating resettlement operations, Dr McDowell believes that people are likely to be further impoverished and politically marginalised as a result of their displacement. At the same time, the robustness of current governance arrangements to manage the resettlement will be put to the test.
Despite the seemingly bleak outlook, McDowell remains hopeful that the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) process and up to US$100bn of new money being made available for climate change-related development, present opportunities for improving national and international management of land acquisition and resettlement and may lead governments to agree a new regulatory framework that enhances protection for all people who are involuntarily resettled.