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Migration as climate adaptation? Exploring discourses amongst development actors in the Pacific Island region

Remling, Elise. 2020. Migration as climate adaptation? Exploring discourses amongst development actors in the Pacific Island region. Regional Environmental Change 20, 3.


This paper investigates the perspectives of a set of actors devoted to development in the Pacific on climate change, migration, and adaptation. While much of the debate over climate and migration is centred around the Small Island Developing States in the Pacific, little is known about how the debate is articulated at that regional level. Drawing on poststructuralist discourse theory and using semi-structured interviews with a set of development actors working in the region, the paper discerns three distinctive discourses on climate and migration. These are (1) a main discourse that promotes international labour migration as an adaptation response and two alternative discourses that challenge the main discourse’s views, by suggesting (2) that migration is of marginal importance and engagement with socio-economic factors that influence Pacific Islands’ vulnerability is more pressing, and (3) that out-migration is undesirable but that communities may have to be relocated within their countries. The paper further explores why the discourse on labour migration may have emerged and why it is being perpetuated by actors that originate outside the Pacific region. The paper concludes by suggesting that significant differentials in economic and political resources exist between the main discourse and the alternative discourses. In addition to these empirical insights, the paper adds new findings to the growing literature on the politics of climate migration discourses. Unlike earlier work that identifies a shift from an alarmist to an optimist framing, it illustrates that both alarmist and optimistic imaginaries operate simultaneously in the discourse on labour migration.

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