Human Migration Decision-Making in Response to Climate Change: A Case Study in Shanghan County, China

Yinru Lei

    Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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    From the very first report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), it was recognised that the most important impacts of global climate change would be felt by those populations that are forced to move, making the need to address issues of climate change-related migration urgent. Recent research has recognised the importance of studying the multi-causality of migration, the differentiation of climate change impacts, and the various migration routes in response to different climatic signatures. However, the evidence base in this field is both varied and patchy, and lacks coherent frameworks and testable hypotheses. Based on these gaps, this research focuses on answering four theoretical and practical questions. (1) What is the interactions between climate change and migration? (2) How do local people perceive climate change? (3) How do they adapt to the impacts of climate change? (4) What is the process of migration decision-making in response to climate change? By systematically answering these questions, this study provides a robust conceptual model to better explain the decision-making processes for human migration in response to climate change.This research applied interpretivism and a qualitative method in conjunction with the single case study approach. In the selected case study, Shangnan County in northwest China, a total of 97 in-depth interviews and 10 focus group discussions were conducted in 16 research sites, supplemented by secondary data collection and participatory observations. The research assembled sets of data on environmental, socio-economic, institutional and personal factors and indicated that local people identified climate change-related factors as migration drivers. Furthermore, in the majority of cases investigated, climate change-related factors impacted on migration decisions indirectly by interacting with non-climatic drivers through additive, enabling, vulnerability, and barrier effects. Local people generally held the perception that the risks of climate change-related events would increase in frequency and severity in the future. Correspondingly, various individual and government adaption strategies had been taken or were planned to cope with climate change impacts. Further analysis revealed that there was a positive correlation between risk perception and adaptation, suggesting that people who perceived climate change as being more severe in the future were more likely to implement ex situ adaptations. Migration and Government Resettlement Projects (GRPs), therefore, became preferred options for local people and governments. The findings from this research suggest that migration decision-making in response to climate change is a step-by-step process, which consists of appraising challenges, exploring alternatives, generating intentions (encountering a trigger), deliberating plans, and implementing decisions. The findings also suggest that climate change acts as predisposing, proximate, precipitating and mediating factors in sequence during the decision-making process. Finally, a robust conceptual model of the human migration decision-making in response to climate change (HMDCC) was constructed using the research findings. The process of model validation highlighted the role of the HMDCC as a comprehensive explanatory tool for investigating climate change-related migration since it: (1) tested the multi-causal nature of migration, (2) integrated vulnerability, risk perception and adaptation, and (3) presented migration decision-making as a dynamic process.
    Original languageEnglish
    QualificationDoctor of Philosophy
    Awarding Institution
    • Charles Sturt University
    • Finlayson, Max, Co-Supervisor
    • Thwaites, Rik, Co-Supervisor
    • Shi, Guoqing, Co-Supervisor, External person
    Award date18 Nov 2015
    Place of PublicationAustralia
    Publication statusPublished - 2015


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