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. A significant consequence of this crisis is migration, as individuals and communities are forced to relocate. Over the next 30 years, extreme climate zones and uninhabitable areas are projected to expand from 1% to 20% of Earth's land, leading to the displacement of hundreds of millions of people.
In this context, vulnerable regions and communities, historically the least responsible for this crisis, will be disproportionately affected.
According to United Nations agencies' data, while conflict remains the primary driver of displacement, there is a noticeable increase in climate- and disaster-related displacement. 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 change, migration, peace, security, and development. Building upon their insights and in dialogue with UN Country Teams, local NGOs, and community representatives, we will examine climate migration through selected case studies within climate hotspots in 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, 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 tasked 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.