Interest in the impact of anthropogenic climate change on population distributions and migration has grown steadily amongst policy makers, scientists and academics over the past quarter of a century (see for example Myers, 2002; Baird et al., 2007; Stern, 2007; Parry, 2007). Underpinning this interest is a concern that increased environmental stress (brought about by anthropogenic climate change) will dramatically increase the number of people migrating, potentially threatening regional and global security (Gray and Mueller, 2012). Despite the wider resonance of this narrative, recent theorising and empirical evidence has revealed a considerably more complex and dynamic picture, challenging the mainstream view (Black et al., 2011a; Bardsley and Hugo, 2010; Oliver-Smith, 2009).
Building on this emerging literature (see Piguet et al., 2011; Laczko and Aghazarm, 2009; and Morrissey, 2009 for good overviews) this research investigates how and why some people use mobility as a response to climatic perturbations (such as droughts and floods) whilst others do not. This approach conceptualises migration as a key adaptive response to environmental change rather than a failure to adapt (Tacoli, 2009; Renaud et al., 2007) and sees mobility as a means to increase resilience (Black et al., 2011b; Black et al., 2011c).
This focus on (im)mobility is possible through the application of a novel conceptual framework that synergises resilience and entitlements thinking. The research is located in China where formal institutions (such as Hukou) exert an incredibly powerful influence over the lives of citizens and is a significant factor in determining the mobility of the population (Cai, 2003; Zhang, 2008; Chan and Zhang, 1999). In acknowledging the importance of these issues, the research uses an adapted version of Leach et al’s (1999) ‘Environment Entitlements Framework’ to understand the processes, characteristics and outputs that contribute to resilience (Nelson et al., 2007). Specifically it examines how social actors gain mobility endowments and deploy mobility entitlements (in the form of migration) to alter capabilities and improve wellbeing in the context of climatically-driven environmental change.
This research makes a number of important knowledge contributions centred on three issues. Firstly, it responds to the call for more methodologically robust, empirical research that explores the links between climate change and mobility (Bardsley and Hugo, 2010). Secondly, it contributes to theorising on the migration climate change nexus through the development of a unique conceptual framework that acknowledges the importance of power and social differentiation in contributing to mobility and resilience (Langridge et al., 2006) (in so doing it addresses the distinctly ecological bias prevalent in the application of resilience thinking (Ernstson et al., 2010)). Finally, the research examines issues of scale, considered by scholars such as Mauro (2009) and Polsky and Easterling III (2001) as at the core of environment society relations.