The Concept of Climate Migration: Advocacy and its Prospect

Benoit Mayer, The Concept of Climate Migration: Advocacy and its Prospect (Edward Elgar, Elgar Studies in Climate Law, 2016)

Available from Edward Elgar, Amazon, WorldCat libraries; preview on google books

Political narratives on climate or environmental migration have been deployed in support of policy arguments relating to humanitarian assistance, migration, and climate change, or to promote national security or economic interests. But while climate change certainly has various impacts on human mobility, it does not appear to create distinct “climate migrants” or (in general) unprecedented migration scenarios. In this timely book, Benoit Mayer offers a unique interdisciplinary inquiry into the prospects of different political narratives on climate migration.

The Concept of Climate Migration identifies the essential narratives around climate migration – the humanitarian narrative, the migration narrative and the climate change narrative – and assesses their prospects. It argues that although such arguments will influence global governance, they will not necessarily achieve what advocates hope for. Throughout the discussion, it appears that the weaknesses of the concept of “climate migration” are likely to be utilized in favour of repressive policies against migration or for the defence of industrial nations against perceived threats from the Third World.

This discerning book explores new paradoxes in political advocacy and relates them to some of the greatest challenges to contemporary global governance. It will be of great interest to researchers and postgraduate students interested in climate migration, climate change and the law, or anyone involved in advocacy around these important issues.


Preface (François Crépeau)
1. Conceptualizing “Climate Migration”
2. The Humanitarian Narrative – Human Rights, Global Justice, and the Limits of Humanitarian Reason
3. The Migration Narrative – Protection Gaps, the Refugee Analogy, and the Rights of Migrants
4. The Responsibility Narrative – Anthropogenic Climate Change, Migration as Injury, and Interference in Place of Reparation
5. Pragmatic Narratives – Self-Interests, National Aspirations, and Global Complex Interdependence

Critical acclaim

“In this important book, Benoît Mayer forces us to confront the implications of labelling in the climate migration context, and skillfully leverages this debate to shine a light on broader questions of the evolving role of global governance. His forthright analysis is both refreshing and appropriately challenging.”
James C. Hathaway, University of Michigan Law School, US

“The discussion on the legal aspects of climate migration is often limited to the issue of the legal status. Yet the debate extends way further, and Mayer offers a much-needed broader look at the different dimensions of this concept, their legal implications and political caveats.”
François Gemenne, University of Liège, Belgium, and Sciences Po, France

“The book addresses the very timely and controversial concept of climate migrants. With great skill and thoroughness, Mayer discloses the ambivalence that lies in this concept: It may foster desirable developments as well as undesirable ones, depending on the way it is being used in political advocacy. The danger is that the concept of climate migrants could heighten the general anxiety about climate change and be detrimental to causes such as human rights protection and climate change responsibility. Yet, it could facilitate stronger international cooperation, international assistance and solidarity. The concept of “climate migrants” carries with it an understanding of complex, global interdependence and arguments for states to not ignore the protection of vulnerable peoples outside their jurisdiction. Moreover, the concept might also contribute to a greater understanding of states’ responsibility under international law to drastically reduce their excessive greenhouse gas emissions.
All in all, the book sheds light on one of the major challenges that today’s system of global governance faces: the inertia to address collective issues in a cooperative and effective manner. The solution to this challenge may lie beyond the scope of this book, but it certainly is an important step in analysing the underlying legal and political dimensions and constrains to providing such solution.”
Christina Voigt, University of Oslo, Norway

“Professor Mayer clearly and persuasively argues that . . . the effects of climate change on migration cannot and should not be addressed in isolation from broader concerns over migrant welfare and environmental protection. His insightful, interdisciplinary book requires us to rethink our assumptions about the relationship of climate change and migration, and provides a strong platform for future scholarship and policy.”
John H. Knox, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment and Wake Forest University, US

“With stories about migration and climate change making daily headlines, Benoît Mayer’s insightful analysis of the concept of “climate migration” is particularly timely. Mayer’s careful and critical deconstruction of the concept offers a fresh scholarly perspective on how the challenges of migration and climate change are intertwined. Its clear guidance on how the elusive concept can be used in political advocacy should put the book on the reading list of anyone concerned with tackling two of the most important global challenges of this day and age in conjunction.”
Harro van Asselt, University of Eastern Finland


  • By Saleh Ahmed, in (2019) 19(4) Global Environmental Politics 139-141: “a timely intellectual contribution to the discussion of climate migration. [The book] provides a rich synthetic analysis from multiple disciplines, ranging from international law and international relations to some elements of argument studies and psychology.”
  • By Sushmita Choudhury and Amy Maguire, in (2017) 11(4) Carbon and Climate Law Review 343-344: “Mayer’s book is ambitious and makes an extremely valuable contribution to the literature.”
  • By Yvonne Su, (2017) 30(4) Journal of Refugee Studies 624-626: “[Benoit Mayer’s] book breathes life and purpose back into the concept of climate migration.”