Climate migration

A human experience that can also have positive effects

Four questions put to Dina Ionesco and Mariam Traore Chazalnoel, International Organization for Migration (IOM). The IOM is an aid organisation which works all around the globe. They support people who are forced to migrate, who are underway or who already have reached their destination. Climate-induced migration is a relatively new topic. In that case, environmental push-factors are main drivers to leave.

Since when has climate-induced migration been on the international agenda? 
The first references to climate and migration within the global climate negotiations can be traced back to 2010, at the 16th Conference of the Parties (COP 16) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), in the Cancun Adaptation Framework. Fast-forward a few years, and in 2015, at COP 21, the landmark Paris Agreement represented the most pivotal moment for climate migration, with references to the protection of the rights of migrants and the decision to create a Taskforce on Displacement. It should develop recommendations to address climate displacement as part of the mandate of the work of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage (WIM). In addition, since 2014 the WIM has had a work stream dedicated to climate migration, foreseen to continue at least until 2023.
This means that climate migration issues are regularly discussed in the climate negotiations and that this will be the case for the next five years at least – a huge advance considering that a few years ago, migration was not present in the global climate discourse. One important step was in 2016 the convening of the first expert meeting on the topic by IOM and the WIM. The institutionalisation of climate migration opens up possibilities to act at both the policy and operational levels. Beneficiaries are the states facing climate migration challenges as well as the migrants themselves.

A tent city in Southern Sudan offers shelter to hundreds of displaced persons. Some of them have flown from unrest in the country, others are no longer able to till their fields due to climate change. It is often a combination of several different factors that ultimately forces people to leave their homes. © Jorge Galindo, IOM  
What are some hurdles to tackling the issue?
We still face many challenges to develop the global governance of climate migration. The discussions on this issue remain politically sensitive, with difficulties to reconcile the needs of both developed and developing states. The technicalities of climate migration have yet to be sufficiently investigated and it is essential to ensure that existing knowledge and data are shared with and understood by the decision makers. Hopefully, upcoming activities will help to fill these gaps, such as the organisation of an expert meeting by IOM and the Platform on Disaster Displacement in May 2018.
At the operational level, funding is a major issue as climate-related financing is not channeled into the development of innovative climate migration programmes. Finally, the impacts of climate change on migration are contextualised and every country/region needs to develop specific approaches. This also implies the need to bring together the different governmental entities that have a stake in the issue – from climate and migration to planning and agriculture. Such cross-sectoral cooperation is not easy to achieve, although existing capacity-building initiatives are often an essential step to initiate a whole-of-government dialogue.
Where are the hotspots on our earth?
Climate change and its current and future impacts on migration are experienced worldwide. The examples are numerous: Senegalese fishermen migrating to cities due to ocean acidification, communities in Alaska or Fiji forced to plan for relocation due to coastal erosion, rural to urban migration in Central Asia fueled by climate impacts on rural livelihood, storms in the USA displacing thousands of people, cities in Asia threatened by sea level rise, nomadic populations in East Africa facing desertification or droughts in Mexico or Peru leading to internal and international migration. Climate migration is a truly global issue, as outlined in the Atlas of Environmental Migration – a publication that provides case studies from all parts of the world.

Mariam Traore Chazalnoel and Dina Ionesco believe that migration needs to be included on the agenda of the climate negotiations. They are spearheading an IOM campaign for this purpose.
What solutions can we offer to people whose livelihoods are lost due to climate change?
At IOM, we strive to develop comprehensive solutions for people to stay, solutions for people on the move, solutions for people to move, and solutions for people who have already moved. Through IOM projects worldwide as well as the work of governments, civil society and the UN system, we have dozens of examples of good practices on how to manage climate migration, such as: investing in climate adaptation or green job-creation targeting areas with high emigration rates (helping people stay); green job creation and training programmes for migrants in transit to encourage voluntary returns (helping people on the move); facilitated labour migration schemes (helping people to move); and projects that help migrant communities abroad to invest in climate adaptation in their countries of origin (solutions for people who have moved). We also need to better plan for the relocation of people who cannot remain in their degraded environment.
In addition, many actors are working on climate migration from different perspectives such as gender, protection, land rehabilitation, agriculture, youth, human rights, labour and development. There are entry points in different communities of practice to develop solutions. Of paramount importance is the need to acknowledge that migration is a human experience that can also bring positive effects for the migrants and their receiving communities.
25 April 2018