Agents of Change - Lena Knappers & Bram van Ooijen

Humanity on the move


Climate change increasingly is a reason for displacement and migration. This may be because of a particular catastrophic event, such as a flash flood (The Netherlands 2021), wildfire (Canada 2022) or landslide (Brazil 2022), but it can also be the result of cumulative impacts of drought or sea-level rise, slowly making an area uninhabitable. The majority of people who become displaced, remain in their own country and move to cities, but a number cross international borders, and this is likely to increase as climate change impacts on entire regions and ecosystems. This foreseeable migration will involve the world’s poorest, escaping deadly heatwaves or failed harvests, but it will potentially also include middle class people who can no longer live where they planned, because it is impossible to get a mortgage or a property insurance in certain areas, or because employment has moved elsewhere. The United Nations International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has cited estimates of as many as 25 million to 1 billion climate migrants in the next 30 years, while other projections point to 1.4 billion by 2060.

Areas that will become unliveable (red) and more livable (green) with an average global warming of 5.0 degrees Celsius. Image: Humanity on the Move.

Research by

    • Lena Knappers
    • Bram van Ooijen

Climate induced migration takes place disproportionally in low-income countries and intersects with many other causes for displacement. The people most affected by climate change are those already experiencing threats to their lives and livelihoods, including degraded environments, income instability, lack of affordable healthcare, inadequate sanitation, poor governance, and a lack of personal agency or ability to change their circumstances. Nations have an obligation to offer asylum to refugees, but under the legal definitions of the refugee, still based on the 1951 Refugee Convention, this does not include those who have to leave their home because of climate change. Therefore, many people cannot find a safe and healthy place to live because they are not qualified as refugee. At the same time, the world’s wealthiest countries spend more on arming their borders to keep migrants out, than on tackling the climate crisis that forces people from their homes in the first place, even when exactly these prosperous industrial countries have caused climate change and high carbon emission based on coal, oil and gas. Migration flows come at a terrible human cost. It is therefore important to investigate in more just alternatives for the way we are dealing with climate change, migration and the organisation of space today.

This research design project examines the impact of climate change on the liveability of our world and the potentialities of space. Which areas will be most affected by global warming? Where will people move to and where can new places for living be built? The project proposes three scenarios in which different climate mobility narratives will be told and investigated, based on various global temperature increases. The narratives will be both imaginary and realistic, and can be used as evocation of a debate on reconsidering migration in today’s political and societal context.