Spatial Design Strategies for Climate Migration

Climate change has emerged as one of the most pressing global challenges of our time, with far-reaching implications for human societies and the environment. One significant consequence of climate change is migration, where individuals and communities are forced to relocate due to changing weather patterns, rising sea levels, and environmental degradation.

Over the next 30 years, about 200 million people will be displaced by rising sea levels, drought, and extreme climates. Impoverished regions, historically least responsible for the crisis, will be hit hardest as extreme climate zones expand from 1% to 20% of the land.

While conflict remains the main driver of displacement, climate- and disaster-related displacement is also on the rise. In 2022, disaster-related internal displacement accounted for more than half of all new displacements. Climate change, which is contributing to more frequent and severe extreme weather events, is increasingly recognized as one of the causes driving both instability and internal displacement. Between 31 million and 72 million people across sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America are expected to be displaced by 2050 due to water stress, rising sea levels, and crop failure. Scarcity and degradation of natural resources, limited access to sustainable livelihoods and basic services, are already creating tensions between host communities and internally displaced persons in numerous contexts.

To address this pressing issue, the class will be conducted in conversation and coordination with the United Nations Secretary-General Peacebuilding Fund, which has extensive experience addressing challenges at the nexus of climate migration, peace, security, and development. Building upon the insights from the UN Peacebuilding Fund and in dialogue with UN Country Teams and NGOs, we will examine climate migration through selected case studies within the Sahel, Haiti, and the Pacific Islands while focusing on 1. cross-border migration, 2. rural-to-urban migration, 3. migration within island settings. We will explore holistic views of displacement and risk overlaps, including where conflict and climate change effects intersect.

This project-based seminar aims to introduce a spatial design dimension to the nexus of climate migration, peace, security, and development. The goal is to develop informed strategies and innovative approaches that address the complex challenges of climate-induced migration in these vulnerable regions through design. The sessions will include meetings with experts to explore various topics, such as climate impacts in the selected areas, intersections with challenges like war, colonialism, and resource extraction, migration policies, climate-induced conflicts, water issues, blue lines, wetlands, sedentary and pastoralist habitation, uncertainty, complexity of climate models and theory, adaptation pathways, planning under deep uncertainty, and how spatial design can contribute to envisioning alternative futures.

By leveraging design thinking and spatial analysis, students will be required to develop initial recommendations for building local and regional resilience in the short, mid, and long term within selected climate hotspots. These recommendations aim to pragmatically enhance the livelihoods of forcibly displaced persons and host communities at local and regional levels, while fostering more visionary imaginaries of a changing planet.