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Planned Relocations in the Context of Climate Change: Unpacking the Legal and Conceptual Issues

Jane McAdam and Elizabeth Ferris

Keywords: Relocation; Resettlement; Climate Change; Disasters; Law; Conceptualisation; Displacement; Migration

Over the past six or so years, a wealth of research has sought to analyse conceptually, and document empirically, the links between climate change and human migration and displacement. However, considerably less attention has been given to planned relocations made necessary by the effects of climate change. This article seeks to contribute to the emerging policy debates over relocation as a form of adaptation to climate change. It begins by examining conceptual issues related to ‘relocation’ in light of existing normative frameworks, before turning to policy challenges about how relocations are—or could be—used in practice. Indeed, the challenges raised by relocation are closely linked to how it is conceptualised, since this impacts on how particular movements are understood, who takes responsibility for them, over what timeframe, and in what manner. Many of the examples are drawn from the Pacific, a region where the impacts of climate change are already being felt and movements are already occurring. In particular, historical cases of relocation in the Pacific, whether for environmental or other reasons, provide insights and analogies that may be useful for contemporary policy deliberations.

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