Climate Migration: From the Paris Agreement to the Global Compact for Migration
When Hurricane Maria hit Dominica this year, Tosca Augustine and her three children sought shelter in a nearby school as they saw their home vanish into thin air along with all their belongings.
Similar stories are echoed elsewhere. In the Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea, climate change is clearly visible. Over the last several decades, the combined impact of sea level rise and environmental degradation have resulted in coastal erosion, shrinking the already miniscule islands.
Millions of people around the world are suffering from coastal erosion, desertification, water stress and sea level rise, among other phenomena. There is increasing recognition that climate change and the environment significantly affect human mobility.
When IOM, the UN Migration Agency attended the first climate conference back in 2006, migration was absent from the climate negotiations. By 2015, this had changed. The COP21 Paris Agreement specifically refers to migration and human mobility, calling for States to respect and promote the rights of migrants.
This year’s 23rd session of the Conference of the Parties (COP23), held under the Presidency of Fiji took place just two years after the adoption of the landmark Paris Climate Change Agreement, at a time of hefty challenges, but also transformative initiatives.
This COP represented the opportunity to take stock of climate migration as a key element of the official climate negotiations, as well as the numerous events organized on the margins of the conference. The Executive Committee (Excom) of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) presented its report to the COP mentioning the development of the Excom five-year rolling workplan which includes a work stream on human mobility and migration. The WIM was established at COP19 to address loss and damage associated with impacts of climate change, including extreme events and slow onset events, in developing countries that are particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of climate change.
This means that climate migration continues to be an integral part of the climate negotiations, and will remain to be for at least the next five years – a significant advance considering that a few years ago, migration was a marginal issue in the global climate change discourse.
IOM, the UN Migration Agency, has long acknowledged the interrelation between migration, climate change and the environment. In our quest to make migration a choice and not a necessity, we must integrate migration solutions into national, regional and global actions.
Forward-looking solutions at the national level should aim at reducing forced displacement. For instance, national policies would allow more people to remain in their home communities safely; present migrants with the option to reintegrate through sustainable green job opportunities; or establish regular and dignified migration paths.
At the cusp of the migration and climate change debates, we must build on past achievements and reach a new phase in our journey, by integrating migration solutions into national climate action.
Similarly, the Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration (GCM), which will be negotiated next year in New York, is a historical opportunity to ensure that climate change drivers of migration are considered in the global governance of migration.
To seize this opportunity, IOM is organizing a high-level panel at its annual governing body meeting, the IOM Council currently underway in Geneva, Switzerland. The panel aims to stress that the international community can no longer design migration policy without taking into account the environmental state of our planet. If forced migration is to be avoided and safe migration is to be facilitated, it is no longer possible to ignore the challenges posed by environmental and climate risks and their impacts on all policy areas.
The progress made in acknowledging environmental migration at the international level brings nevertheless another challenge, namely to ensure coherence between multiple policy areas at stake. The panel will also aim to identify opportunities to link the development of both the GCM and the Global Pact for the Environment with the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
The Panel will be moderated by IOM Director General, William Lacy Swing, with the participation of:
- Nicolas Hulot, Minister for the Ecological and Inclusive Transition of France
- Ambassador Nazhat Shameem Khan, Permanent Representative of Fiji to the United Nations in Geneva and Chief Negotiator for the COP23 Presidency
- Keiko Kiyama, Co-President of the Japan Emergency NGO
- Patricia Espinosa, Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC - Written Statement
- Erik Solheim, Executive Director of UN Environment - Video Message
The Panel will be accompanied by a photo exhibition from the Humans and Climate Change Stories, a unique media project of photographer Samuel Turpin, that follows 12 families scattered around the globe, who are subject to different types of climate change impacts, over the course of the next 10 years.
Whether in Dominica or Papua New Guinea, the future of environmental migrants relies just as much on the effectiveness of the fight against climate change as on the availability of dignified migration opportunities.
Dina Ionesco is Head of the Migration, Environment and Climate Change division at IOM.