Ahead of COP21 Intended Nationally Determined Contributions Take Stock of Human Mobility Questions

What are INDCs?

Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) are very much talked about as we approach the opening of COP21, one of the largest global conferences ever held. INDCs form the basis of states’ engagement to support the expected legally binding global climate agreement; and the submitted contributions reflect national commitments to achieve global climate objectives on reducing CO2 emissions.

As of 13 November 2015, 161 countries had submitted their INDCs, with a technical focus on how to reduce CO2 emissions and reach mitigation targets. So far, the aggregate INDC scenario does not meet the desirable target of limiting global warming to a below 2°C increase (FactorCO2, 2015). 

Adaptation measures are also considered as secondary next to mitigation, as revealed by submissions from developed countries. Yet, insufficient mitigation efforts now mean a need for more adaptation measures in the future – and all these dimensions have immediate and future impacts on the migration patterns of people.  

Why are INDCs important to the human mobility and climate nexus?

Whether mitigation targets are achieved or not in the future, we already know that unprecedented number of people are now on the move following weather-related natural disasters or the slow degradation of areas that are becoming inhospitable to human beings.

Adaptation measures are already implemented throughout the world and it is likely that more adaptation efforts will be needed in both developed and developing countries in the future. In terms of human mobility, this calls for understanding i.) what are the current and expected climate impacts on the movement of people and ii.) how to best use the policy tools at our disposal to turn migration into a favorable adaptation strategy whenever possible (see our entry on adaptation in this issue). 

As mentioned above, INDCs reflect states’ commitments to combat the negative effects of climate change. It is therefore encouraging to see that many countries have reference to human mobility in their national submissions.

What is the place of human mobility in INDCs?

Out of the 134 submissions representing 161 countries (133 national submissions plus 1 common submission for the 28 European Member States), 24 countries made reference to human mobility in one of its different forms. This means that 18% of the submissions referred to human mobility. Among these countries, 46% are located on the African continent, 38% in Asia-Pacific and Oceania and 16% in Latin America. With no surprises, these continents are the most affected by climate change and its effects on human mobility.

The references to human mobility mostly focused on three dimensions – which reflect the overall debate on the climate-migration nexus:  i) managing the effects of climate change on security and the need to tackle and prevent adverse mobility effects such as the displacement of people due to natural disasters and/or migratory movements due to climate change as one of the push factors; ii) using migration as a possible adaptation strategy to climatic changes through policy measures such as resettlement and relocation and; iii) leveraging remittances and transfers from migrants and diasporas to contribute to climate action.

A summary table of the references to human mobility in the INDCs can be found here.

And after COP21?

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is hopeful that following COP21 in Paris, countries will step up their mitigation and adaptation efforts in line with the expected legally binding agreement. Over the next decades, we will enter the implementation phase of the national commitments expressed in the INDCs and the human mobility dimension will continue to be of increasing relevance to most countries – especially for those who are already aware of the threats but also for those who see the opportunities associated with migration in a changing climate.  

In the past ten years, at the request of its Member States, the IOM has intensified its efforts to support States to understand and handle the numerous challenges associated with the migration and climate nexus. Ongoing IOM activities include research, capacity building and policy support as well as operational responses.


Eva Mach - Intern Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division, IOM Geneva

Mariam Traore Chazalnoel - Associate Expert, Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division, IOM Geneva