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CLIMATE MIGRATION

Planning for Human Migration Due to Climate Change Must Top the Global Agenda

CHARLES PHILLIPS

CHARLES PHILLIPS

Charles Phillips is an independent researcher and consultant for Oxford Business Group whose field of expertise is energy and climate change policy in the Middle East.

Preparing for likely patterns of global and national migration impacted by climate change will continue to be a high priority in 2021 and beyond. The phenomenon of climate-induced migration has increasingly come to the attention of the international community over the past few years. This follows repeated warnings from international bodies that major disruptive migration patterns will be experienced by countries worldwide if long-term and holistic action is not taken to address climate change. The UN-sponsored Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has estimated that the single greatest impact of the climate crisis may be human migration caused by the environmental consequences of climate change: shoreline erosion, coastal flooding, and agricultural disruption.

This comes at a time when the adverse effects of climate change are projected to worsen, despite the economic fallout from Covid-19. A UN-backed report, The Production Gap Report: 2020 Special Report, projects coal, oil, and gas production will grow this decade despite the dip caused by the pandemic. Growth in fossil fuels will lead to a significant increase in CO2 emissions, which cause and intensify climate change. The report projects a 2% annual rise in global fossil fuel output this decade, at a time when annual emissions cuts of 6% are needed to reach the 1.5 C warming limit — an ambition of the Paris Agreement of 2015.

We do know that climate change amplifies existing migration pressures and drivers...

The challenge of estimating how many people climate change displaces, or will displace, is limited by a lack of monitoring. We do know that climate change amplifies existing migration pressures and drivers in addition to causing immediate displacement due to catastrophic climate-related weather events. The latter are occurring more frequently and more intensely due to climate change. As such, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) has noted that mass displacement triggered by extreme weather events is becoming the norm and in 2019, natural disasters caused 24.9 million people to leave their homes.

...mass displacement triggered by extreme weather events is becoming the norm...

 One issue that has impeded government action on climate migration is that environmental migrants and environmental or climate refugees are not well defined in international law. The current legal definition for a refugee is based on the 1951 UN Refugee Convention which categorizes a refugee as a person forced to flee due to persecution of race, religion, nationality, social, or political affiliation. This does not include people who are forced to flee due to loss of livelihood or habitat. To address this issue, the International Organization for Migration has adopted ‘climate-displaced persons’ (CDPs) as its preferred term.

There are a number of measures that can address the plight of CDPs that can be divided into four broad categories. Firstly, mitigation of the climate change factors that might displace people will help to reduce the number of CDPs. Secondly, adaptation within countries where it is possible to do so will help to increase the capacities of environmentally vulnerable populations to remain in their places of origin. This will involve planning and capacity building for adaptation strategies such as land management, lessening the vulnerability of houses, and reducing peoples’ exposure to environmental hazards. However, pursuing adaptation strategies is challenging in the face of limited resources and widespread poverty. As such, the Paris Agreement calls for rich countries to finance adaptation for developing countries.

Firstly, mitigation of the climate change factors that might displace people will help to reduce the number of CDPs. Secondly, adaptation within countries where it is possible to do so will help to increase the capacities of environmentally vulnerable populations to remain in their places of origin. This will involve planning and capacity building for adaptation strategies such as land management, lessening the vulnerability of houses, and reducing peoples’ exposure to environmental hazards. However, pursuing adaptation strategies is challenging in the face of limited resources and widespread poverty. As such, the Paris Agreement calls for rich countries to finance adaptation for developing countries.

Thirdly, internal relocation as a part of the adaptation process will be required where localized adaptation is not possible. This will require significant strategic planning and capacity building to prepare for internal migration. Finally, it will be necessary to plan for a certain amount of international resettlement, including pathways for regular migration. This will relate more to refugees and exceptional circumstances, including individuals who cannot be relocated within their home countries due to either large scale destruction or potential conflict if they move internally, and whole populations of islands who may lose their homes. In the face of such a critical climate outlook, the choice of taking urgent action is now no longer an option, it is a must.

References

Farand, Chloe. “Coal, Oil and Gas Production to Blow Climate Targets Despite Pandemic Dip, Report Warns.” Climate Home News Ltd., Climate Home News. December 2, 2020.

Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, IDMC. “Global Report on Internal Displacement 2020.” iDMC. 2020.

SEI, IISD, ODI, E3G, and UNEP. 2020. The Production Gap Report: 2020 Special Report.

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