MIPP students

MIPP students search for solutions for climate change migrants

On July 24, the Balsillie School of International Affairs’ Master of International Public Policy students came together to tackle a pressing issue: how to help those displaced by climate change.

The 20 students, and 30 others from inside and out of the university, deliberated over the question through a policy hackathon, organized by students. Four groups worked together to consider the problem from the perspective of governments, non-state actors and the migrants themselves – and mapped the connections between those groups.

Most governments respond to migration caused by climate change through disaster relief efforts but, with 22.5 million people displaced by climate since 2008, and that number expected to grow rapidly, smart international policy is needed.

“A hackathon is helpful in addressing this issue because it’s such a complex problem and it requires innovative and creative solutions,” says MIPP student and hackathon organizer Christian Robertson, whose research has focused on sustainable development policy. “The unstructured approach of the hackathon allows different disciplines to work together and come up with new and promising ideas.”

The nine-hour day was split up with group work, “flash lectures” from experts, including Balsillie School Director John Ravenhill and professors Andrew Robinson, Audra Mitchell and Robert McLeman, snacks and impromptu music on drums and guitars. “We wanted to provide a space for participants to take that much-needed break when they felt like it, express themselves in a different way and collaborate with other participants in a less formal way too,” says Robertson.

At the end of the day, students presented their ideas and solutions in front of the audience. Most notably, the Mapping Governance group created a map to show the institutional and community networks on local, national and international levels, and the Migrants as Actors group emphasized storytelling as a way to help policymakers empathize with climate migrants, but they warned of the possibility of potential ethical dilemmas.

“The importance of tackling this issue is undeniable,” says Robertson. “Climate change is going to displace millions more people in the next few years. We need to be thinking about solutions to this problem now.”