On the Frontlines of Fear

Migration and Climate Change in the Local Context of Sardinia, Italy


  • Giovanni Bettini Lancaster Environment Centre, Lancaster University
  • Nicholas Beuret Essex Business School, University of Essex
  • Ethemcan Turhan Department of Spatial Planning and Environment, University of Groningen




Climate change, migration, fear, local authorities, austerity


Migration and climate change are hot topics generating widespread concerns and fears in European public opinion. However, a striking difference between them is the ‘efficacy’ of the fears that surround the two topics. For migration, the spectre of a looming invasion and similar narratives translate into immense impacts and a securitisation of the matter. For climate change, growing awareness over the prospect of a climate emergency only sporadically translates into urgent action. This article engages with this remarkable difference of great political relevance. While analyses of fear and securitisation of migration and climate have privileged inter-state politics and international discourses, here we investigate how fear is produced, mobilised, and contested in sub-national political arenas. Rather than on a spectacular case (as Lampedusa or a Pacific Island) we focus on Sardinia, an ordinary region that, for both climate change and migration, is not under the spotlight – there are no melting glaciers nor climate refugees. Drawing on focus groups and interviews with Sardinian local authorities, we detail how mayors and municipality feel on the frontline against both climate change and migration. However, rather than as security issues, both emerge tangled with questions such as austerity, spopolamento(depopulation), economic decline, and rural-urban dynamics. But while fears over migration translate into strong citizen pressure mayors feel compelled to react to, concerns about climate change instead lead to a sort of fatalism or deferral. We conclude the paper with reflections on the implications that this important difference has for broader debates on climate and migration.


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How to Cite

Bettini, G., Beuret, N., & Turhan, E. (2021). On the Frontlines of Fear: Migration and Climate Change in the Local Context of Sardinia, Italy. ACME: An International Journal for Critical Geographies, 20(3), 322–340. https://doi.org/10.14288/acme.v20i3.1838