The Climate Change Agenda

By Daria Mokhnacheva 

Migration was first formally introduced into the negotiations on climate change under the Cancun Adaptation Framework in 2010, as paragraph 14(f) of the Cancun Agreements explicitly called for more research and coordinated efforts to address "climate change induced displacement, migration and planned relocation".

Another result of the Cancun talks was the establishment of a new Work Programme on Loss and Damage, opening doors to new areas of research and action, including in relation to climate-induced migration. Loss and damage is a relatively recent topic, and initially a controversial one, as it derives from the recognition that mitigation and adaptation efforts are likely to fail in many situations, inducing economic, social and cultural loss and damage from the negative impacts of climate change. Developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to climate change are expected to be affected most.

Meanwhile, migration is very closely tied to the concept of loss and damage. On the one hand, economic, social and cultural loss or damage may lead to migration, either voluntary or forced. Thus, communities dependent on environmental resources are particularly affected: if their traditional livelihoods are undermined as a result of environmental change, they may have to move elsewhere. Forced, unmanaged migration may in turn result in additional economic, social and cultural costs and losses for communities, individuals and national economies. Economic loss related to a destructive climatic event may also "trap" people in areas at high risk, making them even more vulnerable in the face of climate change as they are left with no means to move to safer areas and have to strive to find alternative livelihoods. On the other hand, mobility, if well managed and facilitated as an adaptive strategy, can help reduce loss and damage resulting from the negative effects of climate change.

The text agreed upon at the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP 18) of the UNFCCC in Doha in 2012 acknowledged the relevance of including migration as part of the new loss and damage framework (decision 3/CP.18), as a result of joint efforts by different organizations, including IOM, UNHCR, UNU-EHS, NRC and IDMC, to advance migration on the agenda. For the time being, however, work on migration under this programme is limited to research rather than policy development (paragraph 7.(vi) of the decision "acknowledges the further work to advance the understanding of and expertise on loss and damage, which includes [...] how impacts of climate change are affecting patterns of migration, displacement and human mobility"). In other words, there is still a long way to go, and many challenges lie ahead in terms of translating political awareness into action.

Despite slow progress, the loss and damage framework created new opportunities for advancing migration in the negotiations. The topic is now getting more attention at conferences and expert meetings in the run-up to COP 19 (such as the Bonn Climate Change Conference taking place in June 2013), and in the longer term, to the post-2015 agreement. It is hoped that joint efforts to promote migration within the loss and damage framework will be rewarded soon enough through an official recognition of the need for action in this area.

Read more about IOM contributions to COP 18