By: Sherri Cornelius

The topic of climate migration – just one of the myriad outcomes of climate change – seems to be popping up in a lot of places lately. Climate migration is one of the focus areas of our President, Judy Dorsey’s recently completed sabbatical in Washington D.C., Salt Lake City, UT and East Africa. Shortly after her return to work full-time, Judy shared with our team some of the things she learned over the past few months about climate migration.

In this relatively new field of study, there are multiple terms used to describe the people who are affected by climate change in ways that are so significant they leave their homes. For example, the term climate migrant is a more generalized term to describe people who either voluntarily or involuntarily leave their homes due to climate change. Climate refugees are people forced to flee their homes and relocate temporarily or permanently across a national boundary due to specific climate change impacts like sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and drought and water scarcity. By using the term climate refugee, various research institutions and international organizations hope to create the legal frameworks to protect these most vulnerable populations facing forced displacement from climate change.

As part of her sabbatical, Judy took part in the 68th Annual United Nations Civil Society Conference in Salt Lake City, UT, where she convened and moderated a workshop panel titled “Climate Migration: Inclusive, Resilient Solutions for Host Communities – Comparative Lessons from East Africa to Salt Lake City.” The workshop covered global trends in the emerging field of climate migration and the need to rethink refugee resettlements to find more sustainable, resilient, and integrated solutions.

Workshop themes included the following:

  1. Increased understanding of climate migration – impacts on cities
  2. Matching climate science with indigenous knowledge
  3. Navigating an influx of new community members (including realization of the benefits of being a host community)
  4. Fostering action – steps we can all take to address climate migration

I’m particularly interested in theme 2 – making sure the storehouse of knowledge found in indigenous groups is preserved and used to help find solutions to these problems. This indigenous knowledge can be found in both types of communities being affected by climate migration – those with people leaving and those that are accepting climate migrants– and both should be consulted to ensure that their input is included in making the process as robust as possible.

The passion Judy has for the topic of climate migration, as evidenced by her whole-hearted first-hand immersion in the topic, has already been inspiring to me and many others in our company. Judy shared with us some of the resources she found valuable during her journey, and I (and others here) have already started digging into those resources. We are beginning to have conversations around what we want and need to learn about the topic. We’ve also begun exploring additional partnership opportunities to advance the knowledge about and deepen our understanding of the subject.

There’s much work to be done to both slow the causes and lessen the impacts of climate migration. Finding ways to help improve the lives of people displaced by climate change will require a holistic approach that includes expertise from people working in a variety of areas, including sustainable development, environmental justice, refugee resettlement, race relations, and equity. What is encouraging, is that there are many smart, dedicated, talented people out there who are already committed to finding solutions to this difficult problem.

I’m excited to gain additional knowledge about climate migration as our company becomes more involved in this field. What an important issue to address – identifying opportunities as we become more versed in the research, continuing to build relationships with the people and organizations who are leaders in the field, and finding solutions that will help advance the field in ways crucial to bettering the odds of survival for billions of people on our planet.


About the Author – Sherri brings more than 20 years of administrative experience to Brendle Group. She has worked in a variety of capacities, including consulting, not-for-profit, education, and corporate settings, where her responsibilities entailed event and meeting planning, grant writing, internal and external communication, and program coordination.

At Brendle Group, Sherri helps keep our operations running smoothly and supports our staff by coordinating administrative duties in the areas of recruitment and human resources, event and meeting planning, travel and scheduling, and facility operations. She can also be found assisting on projects in the form of coordinating between clients, project managers, and other stakeholders and supporting the development of reports, presentations, agendas, letters, and much more.