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Climate change, conflict and displacement: five key misconceptions

Source: NRDC, "Flooding and Climate Change: Everything You Need to Know,"

Media and policy attention often take an alarmist tone when it comes to displacement crises and the complex interplay of drivers: climate and environmental change, disasters, conflict and fragility. This has contributed to the popular narrative that climate change will lead to mass-scale displacement, which in turn will lead to increased conflict.

This prevailing narrative has given rise to a series of misconceptions about conflict, climate and displacement that continue to resurface and reverberate in an echo chamber of headlines, press releases and campaigns. Unchecked, narratives such as these influence the tone and direction of policy and programmes, with real-life repercussions for those affected by climate, conflict and displacement.

This paper calls for a series of climate change, conflict and displacement ‘reality checks’ to nuance the mainstream narrative and popular logic behind these misconceptions.

Misconceptions and reality checks

  • Misconception 1: The links between climate change, conflict and displacement can be universally understood.

    • Reality check: The links between climate change, conflict and displacement are complex, highly context specific and contested.

  • Misconception 2: Climate-related risks are natural and inevitable.

    • Reality check: Climate-related risks are heavily dependent on underlying vulnerabilities, created by social inequalities and political will.

  • Misconception 3: A new chapter of displacement is emerging in the context of climate and conflict urgency.

    • Reality check: Climate- and conflict-related displacement trends overlap with existing patterns of mobility.

  • Misconception 4: People displaced by climate change and conflict will inevitably cross borders to become refugees.

    • Reality check: People displaced by climate change and conflict are more likely to move internally, within their own country.

  • Misconception 5: Displacement renders people passive and unable to adapt to their situation.

    • Reality check: People are constantly adapting to their changing circumstances, even after displacement.


(c) 2022, ODI



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