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New research project examines immobility as an adaptation strategy

Houses on a beach in Falsterbo, Malmö. Photo by Julian Hochgesang on Unsplash.
Falsterbo, outside Malmö, is one of the places the researchers will focus on as part of the ITACHA project, which examines immobility as an adaptation strategy.

A new research project led by LUCSUS will examine immobility as an adaptation strategy. Through a novel research approach, and field work in different areas affected by sea level rise and erosion, it will shed light on the communities who are unable – or unwilling – to move despite negative effects on their environment.

Average sea levels have swelled about 23 cm since 1880, with about 7 cm in the last 25 years. Every year, the sea rises another 3,2 mm. Research shows that sea level rise is accelerating and projected to rise by circa 30 cm by 2050.

Professor Emily Boyd and researcher Guy Jackson were inspired by the Greek figure of Penelope, Odysseys’ wife, while writing their project proposal under the Belmont Forum call: `Integrated approaches to human migration and mobility in an era of rapid global change'. Penelope was forced to wait on the island of Ithaca for 20 years for Odysseys to return from the Trojan wars.  

Exploring what makes people immobile 

– The image of Penelope on her island got us thinking about immobility. If people stay, despite risks, what capabilities do we need to build up and support for example? Likewise, why are people not able to leave – what factors underlie involuntary or voluntary immobility? says Emily Boyd, Director of LUCSUS.

– Earth is likely to cross a critical threshold for global warming within the next decade. We need to broaden the notion of what adaptation could be, and what it could look like. Because the reality is that most people will not be able to move country, or even elsewhere, as climate change effects increase. Yet, a lot of the focus in current research and policy debates tend to be on migration as an adaptation option. 

Conceptual models, empirical insights and climate governance 

The research project ITACHA will be divided into three themes. The first theme will develop a conceptual immobility model, which incorporates climate risk hotspots, and what possible thresholds, governance barriers and systemic structures that determine immobility. The second theme will examine how immobility is affected by, and related to, local factors, capabilities, and moorings in social life, by comparing insights and empirical data from Malmö and Falsterbo in Sweden, Belém in Brazil , Beira in Mozambique, Freeport in the Bahamas, and the Volta Delta in Ghana, which are all affected by sea level rise and erosion. 

The final and third theme will examine what governs immobility at different scales, and how existing institutions (public and private) and financial mechanisms are supported and are able to assure capacity and resilience to immobile communities.

By combining these three research areas: the conceptual framework, local capabilities, and climate governance, we hope to contribute to this emerging area and produce original and useful research on how and why people become immobile, says Emily Boyd.

– By combining these three research areas: the conceptual framework, local capabilities, and climate governance, we hope to contribute to this emerging area and produce original and useful research on how and why people become immobile, says Emily Boyd.

– Using immobility as a lens brings questions of vulnerability, justice, and intersectionality to the fore in adaptation policies, says Guy Jackson. In addition, it can offer new avenues for approaching climate change vulnerability, managing climate change effects, and supporting agency of diverse communities, concurs Emily Boyd.


ITACHA, ImmobiliTy in a cHAnging ClimAte, is led by LUCSUS in collaboration with researchers in the Bahamas, Brazil, Ghana and Mozambique. It is funded by the Belmont Forum, a partnership of funding organisations, international science councils, and regional consortia committed to the advancement of transdisciplinary science. Other funders include Formas, Vetenskaprådet, SIDA, National Science Foundation, and the Inter-American Institute. It will run for 3 years. 

The Belmont Forum Migration & Mobility CRA Kick-off meeting takes place June 27, 2023. 

A woman, Emily Boyd. Photo.

Emily Boyd

Emily Boyd is Professor in Sustainability Science at Lund University Centre for Sustainaibility Studies. She is a leading social scientist with a background in international development, environment and climate change, with focus on the interdisciplinary nexus of poverty, livelihoods and resilience in relation to global environmental change. Emily Boyd is currently leading work on undesirable resilience, politics of loss and damage and intersectionality in societal transitions, including on transformations under climate change. 

Emily Boyd  is an author for the IPCC, IPBES, and UKCCRA and a Earth System Governance Senior Fellow. 

Read more about Emily Boyd

Guy Jackson. Photo.

Guy Jackson is a researcher at LUCSUS.  He is interested in critically examining climate change loss and damage, and disaster risk reduction, and the (re)production of vulnerability in socio-ecological systems.

Read about Guy Jackson on his webpage