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Abstract

Global environmental change, including climate change, is increasingly affecting ecosystems and the communities who rely on them. Reflecting on the manner in which the environment changes can help provide insights into the different mechanisms by which humans respond and adapt to deal with the environmental stress they face. When it comes to migrating as a response strategy to environmental stress, the pace of change in the environment will have a significant influence on the mode of displacement and migration-related decisions. Determining the exact extent that environmental stresses play in forcing people to move is complex for at least two reasons. First, deciphering which of several push and pull factors influence a decision to move is difficult as multiple factors (e.g., social, political and economic factors) often act simultaneously. Second, environmental degradation processes are often a consequence of the degradation of social, economic and political conditions and vice versa. Reflecting on the concept of social-ecological systems and the notion of ecosystem services is useful for understanding this complexity and can help in determining the extent to which ecosystem degradation plays a role in forcing people to migrate. An attempt is made to address the gap in conceptualising environmental change and migration by sketching a decision framework for categorising people moving due to environmental stressors. The approach examines the circumstances leading to a decision to move, including the state of the environment and coping capacities / adaptive abilities of those individuals or communities affected. This conceptualisation is not a final scheme but rather, a point of departure for debate and discussion. It is hoped that, following in-depth discussions and improvements of such a framework, it will become a useful tool for operational agencies that have to provide support to people who are displaced or migrate because of environmental stresses.