As Extreme Weather Spurs Global Displacement, Migration is Part of the Solution

Dry river in Burao, Somaliland. Photo: IOM/Claudia Rosel 

  • Rania Sharshr | Director of Climate Action, IOM

Geneva – The world recorded the warmest year ever in 2023, carrying over a trend that started in 2015. This persistent warming has intensified displacement worldwide, fueled by a mix of social, economic, and environmental factors increasingly impacted by climate change. 

The World Meteorological Organization just released its State of the Global Climate 2023 report, which emphasizes the new historic milestone that 2023 will go down in history as the warmest year in the 174-year observational record. It has been a constant since 2015: every year since then has been the warmest ever recorded. The persistence of the trend of warming temperatures is proven to lead to new, prolonged and repeated displacement worldwide. It has been a constant since 2015: every year since then has been the warmest ever recorded. The persistence of the trend of warming temperatures is proven to lead to new, prolonged and repeated displacement worldwide. 

Urgent climate action is paramount to address these worrying trends, where vulnerabilities are amplified in contexts of displacement. Paradoxically, amidst these challenges, human mobility emerges as a solution, particularly in response to extreme weather events. Embracing migration as part of our adaptation strategies can empower communities to thrive amidst environmental uncertainty and build resilience to the ongoing effects of climate change. 

While extreme weather events like wildfires, flooding, and extreme temperatures do not spare anyone, the effects of climate change vary depending on the location of the world. Countries least responsible for carbon emissions bear the highest costs of the adverse impacts of climate change, despite being the world’s poorest nations, requiring more time and resources to recover from loss and damage. 

People on the move are particularly vulnerable to the dire and often longstanding effects of climate change. The aftermath of  the 2022 monsoon floods in Pakistan saw mass displacement of people. At the end of 2023, over 1.5 million people remained displaced in the country, with 40 per cent of them still reliant on humanitarian aid for survival. Last May, Tropical Cyclone Mocha triggered 1.7 million new displacements in Bangladesh, Myanmar and India, exacerbating food insecurity, especially among already vulnerable populations. At least 63,000 displacements overcrowded Bangladeshi camps, where are sheltered people already displaced by conflict and violence.  

Both rapid and slow-onset events, sometimes concomitant, resulted in large-scale displacements in 2023. In Somalia, more than 500,000 displacements related to drought were recorded in addition to 653,000 displacements primarily caused by conflict. Concurrently, subsequent flooding during the rainy season displaced more than a million people. It is important to underline that weather extremes do not only impact countries in the southern hemisphere. Last year, Canada experienced an unprecedented wildfire season that triggered evacuation orders affecting over 235,000 individuals. These examples underscore that urgent and worldwide coordinated efforts are needed at all governmental levels to protect and support displaced populations in the face of climate change impacts. 

According to the World Bank, up to 216 million people could become internal climate migrants by 2050, but this number can be reduced by 80 per cent if we take concrete and concerted climate action. In parallel, it's essential to recognize that solutions exist:  

  1. Human mobility, encompassing migration, relocation, and displacement, is one of the solutions when it comes to adapting to the impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels and extreme weather events. Well managed migration policies can mitigate the risks associated with climate-induced displacement, ensuring safe, orderly and regular pathways. Human mobility represents a dynamic and adaptive response to climate change, offering opportunities for individuals and communities to thrive amidst environmental uncertainty. Embracing mobility as a component of climate adaptation strategies is essential for building a more resilient and sustainable future. 
  2. Additionally, harnessing the power of data is essential for effective action. Investing in research and data collection is critical for understanding the dynamics of climate-induced migration. This knowledge informs evidence-based policies, enabling policymakers to anticipate how environmental changes may affect migration patterns. Such data-driven insights are crucial for conducting targeted and anticipatory interventions, notably through the implementation of early warning systems, to avert, minimize and address displacement.  
  3. Strengthening regional and local cooperation plays a pivotal role in addressing climate mobility and harnessing the potential of migration as one of the solutions. Initiatives such as the Kampala Ministerial Declaration on Migration, Environment and Climate Change, the Pacific Regional Framework on Climate Mobility and the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States Ministerial Declaration exemplify collaborative efforts to tackle the challenges of climate-induced migration. These frameworks promote cooperation among member states, facilitating the exchange of best practices, data, and expertise to develop comprehensive policies and strategies to address climate change and human mobility. 

Addressing the challenges of climate-induced migration requires a multi-faceted approach to provide solutions for people to stay, for people on the move, and for people to move. It is crucial that those holistic approaches are taken with urgency.