Sardinia is no stranger to the effects of climate change. Over the past few decades, flooding, coastal erosion and increased desertification in parts of the island have become a growing problem. But there is another consequence of climate change that the locals have been witnessing first-hand: migration and the security concerns it poses. This status of primary witness (being the first to witness a major event or occurrence) is generally acknowledged, but undocumented. Studies and press articles tend to focus on more impacted regions. As Ilenia Ruggiu, Professor of Constitutional Law at the University of Cagliari and coordinator of CLISEL puts it: “Sardinia is a region where climate and migration are important phenomena, without being particularly emblematic. No large-scale flows of migrants, no melting glaciers.” This is precisely the reason why Ruggiu and the CLISEL team chose Sardinia as the project’s first case study. It’s a perfect place to find out what happens when climate change and migration hit a region without much media attention. Moreover, CLISEL widens current debates on the link between climate change and security by adding a complementary angle: the role of local authorities. “CLISEL has investigated how the impacts of migration and climate change on security are determined also by processes taking place ‘down to earth’, in local contexts, cities and at sub-national institutional levels,” Ruggiu explains. “We asked ourselves two questions: how can cities, local authorities and communities face the challenges posed by climate change and migration, and what is the role of ‘local contexts’ in producing insecurity.”
Emphasising local administrations and actors
In the case of Sardinia, it turns out that local administrations have a very different perception of security than that being spread by dominant narratives at European and national level. Rather than the ‘clash of cultures’, terrorism and political disorders, local actors focus on increased competition for dwindling welfare and resources. This local angle had completely been overlooked by earlier studies. “Our interactions with local authorities and communities confirmed that migration and climate change tend to accentuate already existing tensions related to the urban rural divide, problems of depopulation, ecological vulnerabilities, and the relationship between Sardinia and the mainland. Should new arrivals be seen as a resource and distributed across depopulated rural areas as a means of rejuvenation? How do migrants affect attempts to preserve rural Sardinian culture? How will the fragile agricultural sector withstand the pressure exercised by the impacts of climate change? These are the types of questions really occupying people’s minds,” says Ruggiu.
From Sardinia to other European regions
In this context, CLISEL’s mission consisted in breaking the feeling of isolation and disconnect felt locally. Over 3 years, the project has been providing relevant courses to local administrators and helping them reach out to higher levels of governance. It also created the Climate-Change Security Toolbox containing a geo-archive, interactive maps, a travel app, and definitional frameworks. “You could summarise the problem in this manner: local authorities are on the frontlines, with big responsibilities and little power. Yet, they show a great willingness to address the challenges they face,” says Ruggiu. Besides unveiling local authorities’ own ‘map of security’ focusing on welfare and financial insecurity and making the voice of the smallest communities heard, the project also came up with a list of dos and don’ts for policy-makers willing to apply the CLISEL method elsewhere. “The CLISEL tools are open source and can be freely used by other scholars and local administrators. We certainly hope that our research will be extended to other European regions as well, to see whether similar or different results emerge,” Ruggiu concludes.
CLISEL, Sardinia, Cagliari, climate change, migrants, security, local authorities