Human mobility in a changing climate: the time for action is now

  • Mr. William Lacy Swing | Director General, The International Organization for Migration

By IOM Director General William Lacy Swing

With some one billion people on the move around the world, we are confronted daily with human tragedies brought about by major migration movements. The imminent and long-term effects of climate change compound these tragedies.

Climate change is impacting a record number of people, forcing them to migrate either within their own countries or across international borders. The effects of climate change -- intertwined with those of wars, social unrest and entrenched poverty -- exacerbate human insecurity at the global level.  Least developed countries are most affected as they have fewer resources with which to adapt.

In this context, migration can be an adaptation strategy and this should be supported by sound policymaking. This means designing and implementing policies to better plan and manage the movement of people, in order to alleviate stress in affected zones. It means favoring international labour agreements allowing people from degraded areas to move and fill labour gaps elsewhere. It means creating a favorable policy environment to channel migrants’ financial and social contributions into adaptation efforts. 

Addressing climate change, mitigating its effects, and supporting and financing adaptation in all countries will be crucial to protecting people, including migrants and displaced persons, and to upholding global security. For this to happen, we need world leaders to conclude a meaningful and enforceable global climate agreement in Paris this December. Many initiatives are being carried out on the ground, close to the people affected, to empower them on their migration path. But for action to be effective, it is also necessary to give a meaningful political impetus.

Migration in the context of climate change is a defining phenomenon of our time, a mega-trend of this century that can only be managed with decisive and bold interventions -- the time to act is now. 


William Lacy Swing is the Director General of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), the leading intergovernmental organization in the field of migration. The IOM has been working for the past 20 years on questions related to migration in a changing climate, at the policy, research and operational level. More information on IOM’s portfolio of activities in this area is available from the Environmental Migration Portal (