COP21 Paris Agreement: A Stepping Stone for Climate Migrants

The COP21 Paris Agreement adopted by world governments on 12th December 2015 represents a unprecedented breakthrough for action on migration and climate with the formal inclusion of “migrants” in the Preamble of the Agreement.

It reads: “Acknowledging that climate change is a common concern of humankind, parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity”.

Some 195 countries adopted the first-ever universal, legally binding global climate deal - the first major multilateral deal of the 21st century. It sets out a global action plan to limit global warming to well below 2°C.   

In addition, 185 intended nationally determined contributions were submitted and 20% of them mention migration. Consequently we now have new expectations and tools for our work on migration, environment, climate change and natural disasters. 

Paragraph 50 of the COP Decision referring to Loss and Damage also refers to “integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change.”

IOM welcomes the creation of a task force to develop recommendations and will provide recommendations to the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts due to meet in February 2016.

A Long Path to Recognition of Migrants by the Climate Community

We have come a long way since IOM was first engaged in the climate negotiations in Poznan in 2008 and the launch of the Climate Change, Environment and Migration Alliance (CCEMA) in 2009.

CCEMA was the first multi-stakeholder global partnership designed to bring together actors representing a range of perspectives including environment, migration, development and humanitarian assistance. It included IOM, Munich Re Foundation (MRF), The Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI), UNEP, OCHA, UNU-EHS and University of Sussex (DRC.)

Migrants were invisible in the climate agenda until the United Nations Framework Convention (UNFCCC) recognized the growing importance of human mobility with the adoption of two COP decisions on “climate induced migration, displacement and planned relocation."

They were the Decision on Adaptation adopted in Cancun in 2010 (Decision 1.CP/16 paragraph 14 (f)); and Decision on Loss and Damage adopted in Doha in 2012 (Decision 3.CP/18 paragraph 7 (a) (vi)).

CCEMA’s action was followed by increasingly close collaboration on human mobility and climate through the “Advisory Group on Human Mobility and Climate” composed of UNHCR, IOM, UNU-EHS, UNDP, NRC/IDMC, RI, Sciences Po-CERI and RAED.

The group provided technical advice to negotiators and the UNFCCC and gave visibility to human mobility in the climate talks. It will continue to support the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage.

The vocal, expert contribution of the ONE UN Climate Group and civil society at the High Level Side Event in Paris also played an important role in raising the profile of migration in the negotiations.

2015 Year of Migration

As an intergovernmental organization with a migration mandate, IOM welcomes the Paris Agreement and the Sendai Framework for Action on Disaster Risk Reduction and the Sustainable Development Goals – both of which recognize migrants as a specific group with its own vulnerabilities and strengths. 

The adoption of the Nansen Agenda for Protection also represents a major stepping stone for action on human mobility in relation to disasters and climate. IOM is committed to implement the recommendations of the Agenda in collaboration with all relevant actors.

What Next?

There are many challenges ahead, but the Paris Agreement gave IOM the political impetus that it needs at this time of multiple, complex migration crises. 

IOM created a Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division at the beginning of 2015 that is mandated to address the migration, environment and climate nexus. It develops activities and tools that are designed to address migration, disasters, climate change and environmental degradation.

These tools are for the use of States and all relevant counterparts and are focused on three key areas of action:

  • Providing new evidence for policymaking in the form of the Atlas of Environmental Migration; Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM); Environment and Climate Change Policy Brief Series; State of  Environmental Migration; Migration, Environment and Climate: Evidence for Policy (MECLEP) project supported by the European Union; and the Environmental Migration Portal.
  • Delivering training and capacity building programmes for policymakers on migration, environment and climate change. The Training Manual on Migration Environment and Climate Change (MECC) and the programme of regional and national training.
  • Developing operational tools and implementing programmes on the ground dealing with all aspects of forced and voluntary migration in relation to climate change, including the Evacuation Guide (MEND); the Guidelines for Integrating Migration into National Adaptation Plans and on Integrating Migration into Disaster Risk Reduction Strategies; and work on planned relocation, preparedness and return. (

Migration and climate change received unprecedented visibility at the Paris negotiations. The wide range of events in Paris also provided new perspectives from policy makers, civil society, researchers, media, lawyers and artists.

IOM has advocated for a better understanding of the migration, environment, disasters and climate nexus for over twenty years. In 2015 climate migrants finally moved from invisibility into the spotlight. IOM hopes to leverage this visibility into providing concrete solutions for States and migrants. It aims to work through its offices around the world to propose a broad range of policy responses, while assisting and protecting migrants and their communities.

Destins croisés - Migrations, Environnement et Climat. IOM highlights the work of  photographer Alessandro Grassani in Paris through 17th January 2016.