Caroline Zickgraf, Dominique Jolivet, Claudia Fry, Emily Boyd, Anita Fábos

Bridging and breaking silos: Transformational governance of the migration–sustainability nexus

  • Multidisciplinary

Sustainability and migration are typically treated as discrete policy spheres in international, national, and local fora, separated in governance structures and institutions. This results in policy incoherence that hinders just transitions toward more sustainable societies cognizant of mobile realities. This explorative effort identifies the (dis)connections between policy domains using data collected on how the sustainability–migration nexus is governed in four countries with a special emphasis on urban areas: Belgium, the Netherlands, Sweden, and the United States. Results of 73 interviews show that migration and sustainability actors find it challenging to see how they could be working together and that migrants are rarely conceived of as sustainability actors and/or targeted populations of sustainability policy. Despite the cross-sectoral nature of sustainability, it appears that migration and sustainability are sequestered into silos that hinder collaborative actions. Lamenting the existence of silos is not enough to encourage new lines of thinking or practice in how sustainability is governed; therefore, we examine the evidence to ascertain current barriers blocking synergetic governance and the opportunities for change perceived by respondents via three critical elements of transformations toward sustainability: structural, systemic, and enabling conditions. We argue that for sustainability transitions to happen, a wider set of societal actors needs to be included from policy intention to action, but that this transformation may require more than policy integration via horizontal coordination. It demands reflexivity and pluralistic pathways that close vertical gaps between national and municipal levels and diminish structural inequalities as they intersect with migration type and status.

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