François GEMENNE

Nationality Belgian
Year of selection2008
RiskEnvironmental risks

Type of support

Post-Doctoral Fellowship

Granted amount

120 000 €


2 years


Although people have always migrated for environmental reasons throughout history, climate change sheds new light on this phenomenon: not only because of its unprecedented scale, but also due to the debated anthropogenic dimension, which raises the question of environmental responsibility. However, whereas the scientifi c basis for climate change is now well established, less research has been conducted on the human impacts of climate change and, in particular, how it could affect migration patterns. In many cases, migration induced by climate change is perceived as a “failure to adapt” rather than a risk-reduction strategy for the affected populations. While working with the Asian Development Bank and the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University, Dr. François Gemenne demonstrated that current environmental and migration policies were unable to adequately address migration fl ows induced by climate change, and thus to protect the migrating populations. Dr. Gemenne fi rst reviewed how migration patterns were affected after a disaster, but also in situations of slow-onset changes, such as desertifi cation or sea-level rise. He has demonstrated the predominant role played by public policies and social vulnerabilities in migration behaviors, refuting a deterministic approach to environmental migration. On this basis, he has recommended that policies addressing environmental migration be framed in a development agenda rather than in a security or humanitarian agenda. Such policies include portability of social rights for migrants, better regional cooperation and increased attention given to those who stay behind, who are often the most vulnerable. With the right policies, migration can be an effi cient adaptation strategy in situations of environmental stress. Dr. Gemenne now plans to assess the political feasibility of developing such normative frameworks as well as to incorporate them into risk assessments and adaptation strategies. He has created the fi rst-ever course on “Environment and Migration” at Sciences Po Paris and has written two books, which are used as references by many actors on the political and economic stage.
My research focuses on the impacts of climate change on global migration, and the normative frameworks that can address these impacts. It looks at the possible development of new policies and instruments that could deal with these migration flows, and aims at assessing normative frameworks, and integrate them with risk assessments and adaptation strategies.

François Gemenne’s doctoral dissertation was jointly conducted at the Centre for International Studies and Research (CERI) at Sciences Po Paris, and at the Centre for Ethnic and Migration Studies (CEDEM) of the University of Liege (Belgium). Thanks to a postdoctoral fellowship of the AXA Research Fund, he is now a research fellow at the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI). He also teaches the international politics of climate change and the governance of migration at Sciences Po Paris.
His research deals with the policy responses that aim to manage, and sometimes protect, populations displaced by environmental changes. He has conducted field studies in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, and in the archipelago of Tuvalu, threatened by sea-level rise, as well as in China and Central Asia.
Since 2007, he has been supervising the research clusters on Asia-Pacific and Central Asia of the European research project EACH-FOR (standing for Environmental Changes and Forced Migration Scenarios). The project aims to describe the empirical linkages between migration and environmental changes, in a comparative perspective. In addition, he also worked as a scientific advisor for the exhibition ‘Native Land. Stop Eject’ by Raymond Depardon and Paul Virilio, currently on show in Paris at the Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain.
He holds a Master in Development, Environment and Societies from the University of Louvain, and a Master of Research in Political Science from the London School of Economics, where he also taught. His recent publications include 'Development, Environment and Migration' (with R. Stojanov, J. Novosak, J. Opiniano and T. Siwek, 2008), ‘Panorama des principaux axes de recherche sur le changement climatique’ (Critique Internationale 40 : 141-152), ‘History, Nationalism and the (Re)construction of Nations’ (edited with Susana Carvalho, 2009). He is currently working on a volume on the international politics of climate change.

Research work

My research deals with the impacts of climate change on global migration, and the normative frameworks that can address these impacts.
Environmental migration has recently sparked a lot of interest from academics and policy-makers alike, especially in relation to climate change. Most of the academic attention has been directed towards an analysis of the environment-migration nexus, while the policy responses, cooperation mechanisms and institutional arrangements have been less studied, especially in a comparative and cross-disciplinary perspective. The research undertook during my PhD was aimed at studying the policy responses that addressed migration flows associated with natural disasters and environmental changes.
I tried to show that environmental policies and migration policies had evolved in different directions, at different paces, but neither of them were able to address adequately the migration flows induced by environmental disruptions, especially in relation to climate change.
My current research builds upon the work undertook during my PhD, and looks at the possible development of new policies and instruments that could deal with these migration flows. In particular, I plan to assess the political feasibility of the development of such normative frameworks, as well as to integrate them with risk assessments and adaptation strategies.

AXA funding

My doctoral research was mostly descriptive, aimed at identifying the policy gaps with regard to environmental migration. The post-doctoral research funded by AXA is the direct follow-up of this work, and looks for solutions that could fill in these gaps, both at the international and regional levels. The post-doctoral research has a prospective orientation, and examines possible normative frameworks that could be developed, and how they could be implemented. Therefore, it is much more policy-oriented than the PhD research, and aims to be of direct practical relevance with regard to the protection of those uprooted by climate change.
The funding of AXA also allowed me to join the Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations (IDDRI), one of France’s leading research centres on environmental affairs, so that my background in migration studies can be enriched by environmental studies – a perspective deeply needed for a research at the crossroads of environmental and migration studies.

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