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Climate migration, media representation and the rise of ecofascism

By Vani Sharma and Anaelle Deneuve | OMC 2024

Collage by the authors.

In recent years, the term ‘climate migration’ has increasingly gained importance in international discussions surrounding the climate crisis. Within countries in the ‘Global North,’ climate migration has often been framed as a ‘wave’ from the Global South to the Global North, despite the weak empirical evidence for such movements. This framing – which has been cutting across ideologies – is particularly dangerous in the hands of right-wing groups, which use it to push the idea of ‘ecofascism.’ Indeed, the acceleration of climate change and its visible consequences have prompted those who were previously detractors to integrate environmental issues into their discourse. 

The emergence of ecofascism and ecobordering

First emerging in the 1970s, ecofascism combines the protection of ecosystems with the ‘need’ to reduce the world's population to preserve the current way of life in so-called ‘developed’ countries. According to essayist Pierre Madelin, the ideology rests on “getting rid, in the name of the common good”, of certain people considered ‘cumbersome’. In the current context of the capitalist crisis and the acceleration of climate change, he argues that this theory becomes particularly attractive. 

“Climate migration”, when used by right-wing parties, is used to appropriate the language of ecology and sustainability to promote a racialised fear of “the Others”, and drive anti-immigration sentiment. The securitisation of migration culminates into the phenomenon of ecobordering, which views migration as an ecological threat to the nation, and border control as a form of environmental protection. Ecobordering rests on the construction of nature as something to be defended against migrants, stoking fears of depletion of national natural resources due to immigration. As a first step towards ecofascism, ecobordering demonstrates the incorporation of ecology into right-wing values in a form that legitimises their racist positions on migration.

Media and the construction of the ‘climate migrant’

The media plays a crucial role in framing discourses around migration, particularly climate migration, as a national security issue. Across ideological leanings, climate migrants are dehumanised in the media as a ‘threat’ or a ‘victim’ (and in some contexts, as ‘abstractions’ or ‘activists’). The figure of the climate migrant is often racialised and marked in opposition to a ‘white neutral subjectivity’. We recently replicated these results in a review of 33 articles on climate migration in online Francophone media. 

An interesting new trend emerged when we looked at some of these articles: the language of ‘climate refugees’ and ‘climate migrants’ is increasingly being used to describe the effects of climate on mobility in Europe. Temporarily displaced Belgians were framed as “the first climate refugees”, and wealthy white French people moving because of hotter summers called themselves “the first climate migrants”. 

This framing is interesting considering that there are racialised European citizens and nationals who are more immediate victims of climate-induced displacement - for instance, residents of France’s overseas departments, territories, and collectivities. These formerly colonised populations do not form part of the imagination of ‘French’ climate migrants.  

In fact, French metropolitan politicians indicate their unwillingness to facilitate the climate mobility of their own racialised citizens. When asked about a future climate mobility agreement for French Polynesia and New Caledonia, former French Foreign Affairs Minister Catherina Colonna responded that “the size of the Australian continent was a lot larger and a lot more favourable to a small number of migrants”. Colonna, who is a non-aligned right-wing politician, also referred to potential climate-induced movements towards Metropolitan France as “an eventual influx”. This is reminiscent of the rhetoric used in “ecobordering”, and suggests its possible future impacts on policy. 

Possibilities of future mis- and dis-information

Right-wing traditional media coverage helps cement and disseminate biased ideas about climate migrants and amplifying feelings of fear and Otherness. Vliegenthart, Boomgaarden and Van Spanje argue that “the visibility of anti-immigrant parties and their leaders in the news had a strong impact on their success in each country”. 

However, the ideological battleground is slowly shifting online, and being active on social and web-media is now a crucial challenge for every political group. Platforms like X, which are designed around debate, provide them new tools to spread their discourse through self-designated ‘specialists’ spreading fake news. 

Additionally, social media also serves as a platform that allows leaders of parties to shy away from expressing extreme views themselves. Having an idea defended by someone who is not formally affiliated to a well-known/classical party (which may be ill-reputed), reinforces the universality of the discourse. With the rise of web media and social media as sources of information for a large part of the population, we expect them to have a significant impact on building public opinion on climate migration in the future.

Vani Sharma is currently pursuing a master’s degree in International Affairs and Development Studies at the Geneva Graduate Institute, with a specialisation in Mobilities, Migrations and Boundaries. Previously an environmental and human rights lawyer, she is interested in migration as a climate adaptation response, environmental displacement, and attitudes towards immigration. You can contact her at

Anaelle Deneuve is currently pursuing a master’s degree in International Affairs and Development Studies at the Geneva Graduate Institute, with a specialisation in Mobilities, Migrations and Boundaries. After studying in Iceland and discovering the challenges posed by climate change to indigenous populations’ rights, she chose to study migration with a focus on climate migration. She is currently working as a graduate student researcher at the United Nations University Centre for Policy Research on a new global governance framework for climate-driven migration. You can contact her at


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