Duke Hosts Conference on Climate-related Migration in DC

Experts across disciplines meet and discuss latest issues in climate and migration

-By Charles Givens

May 8, 2023

An all-day conference at the end of April at the Duke in DC office explored the future of migration in the context of climate change. The conference, which was hosted by Duke’s Program on Climate-Related Migration (PCRM), brought together experts from academia, government organizations, international organizations and more to discuss the complex relationship between climate change and human mobility.

The PCRM launched with an introductory event on West Campus in the Fall of 2022 and was an important pillar of the Office of Global Affairs’ Duke at Home in the World event series. The program currently operates under the coordination of the Duke Center for International Development (DCID) with support from the Office of Global Affairs.


Speakers at the D.C. conference, who ranged from climate experts, migration specialists to policymakers, emphasized the significant role of climate change in influencing migration patterns. The keynote speaker was Çağlar Özden, a leading economist at the World Bank. Özden emphasized that the effect climate change has on existing migration amounts to “the development challenge of the world.” As people leave their homes dues to climate change, noted Özden, poverty, negative health outcomes and conflicts all increase.

Gabriela Nagle Alviero, a Duke J.D. – Ph.D. student in Environmental Policy, echoed Özden’s sentiments. “What climate change does is exacerbate all of the pre-existing social injustices and inequalities,” said Nagle Alviero. “In order to be really addressing those injustices, we have to take climate change into account, but it’s never the only thing that we should take into account.”

An attentive audience listens to Sarah Bermeo give remarks during the 2023 Conference on Climate Change & Migration in Washington, DC (Photo credit: Leigh Vogel/Duke PCRM)

The conference also highlighted the multidisciplinary nature of climate-related migration. Kerilyn Schewel, Co-Director of PCRM, stressed the importance of bringing together experts from natural and social sciences, the public and private sectors, as well as governmental and non-governmental organizations to discuss this issue.

This collaboration led to in-depth discussions on the link between climate change and migration, with each panelist given ample time to answer thought-provoking questions from the audience following each presentation. For instance, in a discussion about collecting data at the U.S.-Mexico border, a question was asked about how accurate the data is, with the presenter explaining in more detail that the data is only as accurate as the person who inputs it into the system. “Our panels were meant to highlight and bring together a chance for people to talk across the panels and with the audience members and other members of the DC and Duke communities, in order to advance our learning and connections in this space,” said Sarah Bermeo, Co-Director of PCRM.

Scholars emphasized that migration is not a monolithic phenomenon but can take on many forms. For instance, sometimes individuals decide to migrate out of their home countries for family reasons. “We tend to think about a migration decision from an individual perspective, but when we look at migration from a household perspective, we can actually see that migration and immobility are actually quite connected,” said Schewel. “The migration of some can actually enable the capability to stay for a household.”

By bringing together experts from a variety of disciplines, the conference helped foster a deeper understanding of this issue and identify potential solutions. The establishment of Duke’s Program on Climate-Related Migration provides a collaborative platform to continue this important work.