Climate Change Displacement - Mapping the BC Context

Abbotsford, BC Flooding. Credit: Province of British Columbia FlickrAbbotsford, BC Flooding. Credit: Province of British Columbia Flickr

Climate Change Displacement: Mapping the issue in BC

Pathways to minimizing displacement from climate change impacts in BC

Climate change is bringing sudden and slow-onset changes to Canada, particularly in the north which is warming twice as fast as the global average.

In recent years hundreds of thousands of Canadians have been displaced from their homes due to extreme weather impacts such as flooding, mudslides, droughts and wildfires. These events are increasing in severity and frequency due to climate change.

Addressing this issue head-on is the report Climate Change Displacement: Mapping the issue in British Columbia —a synthesis of research carried out by a 1-year PICS Opportunity Project to help prepare for the movement of people to and within BC due to the impacts of a changing climate. The project partners—the Centre for Global Studies (CFGS) at the University of Victoria and the Climate Displacement Planning Initiative (CDPI)—reviewed literature, conducted interviews and hosted a workshop to identify what is known and what needs to be known about human mobility in BC.

The report identifies relevant organizations, frameworks, policies and programs that can lay the groundwork in building multi-level government, business and civil society networks and capacity for addressing climate change displacement in BC. It also highlights the two main knowledge gaps: the need for data on past and existing displacements and mobilities to and within the province, and the need for awareness of risks and hazards at the community level.

Coincidentally, the report’s official release in November 2021 occurred during BC’s third extreme weather-related event in six months – the declaration of a provincial state of emergency due to extreme flooding, which came close on the heels of a temperature-record-shattering heat dome and the third-worst wildfire season on record.

Lead author Nicole Bates-Eamer, a PhD student in Political Science, stressed the need for climate-related policies and programs, including the province’s draft Adaptation Strategy, need to incorporate displacement considerations, given that this is the reality people in BC are facing.

She says fortunately the wheel does not need to be reinvented, as existing frameworks and programs that address issues of adaptation, sustainability, resilience and equity could also look at displacement.

“People have always used movement as an adaptation strategy, so as places become increasingly uninhabitable in a changing climate, it is prudent to begin thinking about anticipating, organizing, and facilitating that movement.” Nicole Bates-Eamer

The report identifies five priorities for action, and potential research questions to help inform future policymaking;

1. Internal mobilities (movement of people in BC): we need to better understand the links between specific risks (wildfire, drought, and flooding for example) and mobility around the province including temporary or longer-term displacements, seasonal or cyclical movement, migration; and managed retreat.
Sample research question: Which climate risks are most likely to create new instances of displacement within BC in the future?

2. Displacement in Indigenous communities: Indigenous-led research (ideally) to better understand the impacts of climate risks on Indigenous communities which are disproportionately affected by disasters, in part because their communities tend to be more remote and far from emergency responders.
Sample question: How do slow- and sudden-onset events complicate the urbanization and movement off-reserve that challenge First Nations governments?

3. Managed retreat and planned relocations: we need to advance our understanding of adaptation options, including planned relocations. In the contexts of floods and sea-level rise, relocation is one approach of four (protect, avoid, retreat, and accommodate) for building resilience in communities.
Sample question: What are the fiscal risks within the province, to both the public and private sector, that the need for managed retreat might pose?

4. Equity: equity in adaptation planning recognizes some communities, populations and individuals require more services and more resources to achieve equal outcomes.
Sample question: What can BC learn from jurisdictions that have successfully incorporated equity concerns into climate adaptation and emergency management planning?

5. Multi-level governance and resources: we need to target interventions at the scale with the most transformative potential, and align resources to match the scale of those interventions.
Sample question: How do we facilitate broad conversations across diverse actors and levels of governments/organizations so that responsibility, roles, and actions are clearly articulated?


Research Partners

Oliver Schmidtke (Principal Investigator)
Director, Centre for Global Studies, University of Victoria
George Benson (Researcher)
Co-founder, Managing Director, Climate Migrants and Refugees Project
Nicole Bates-Eamer (Student)
PhD Candidate, Department of Political Science, University of Victoria
Graduate Student Fellow, Centre for Global Studies
Pacific Institute for Climate Solutions Opportunity Project
Began December 1, 2019 / Project Duration: 9 months


A full project overview is available online here.