Migration, human mobility, and loss and damage: are we ready for the next COP?

Pakistan © IOM/Chris Lom 2011 

By Daria Mokhnacheva

As country delegates, climate experts and observers gather in Warsaw for the 19th session of the Conference of the Parties this week, it is time to look back at the progress made over the past year on some of the most significant areas of work laid out at the last UNFCCC talks in Doha.

One of the achievements in Doha of foremost interest to migration and human mobility was the adoption [hyperlink to article in previous newsletter on Climate Change Agenda and L&D of a decision on loss and damage mentioning migration, displacement and human mobility (decision 3/CP.18, paragraph 7.a.(vi)). 

A product of a delicate compromise achieved on the final day of the negotiations, the decision was a fundamental step forward for developing countries, paving the way for new institutional arrangements to address loss and damage in most vulnerable countries, and a potential new international mechanism and funding from which the latter could benefit. These institutional arrangements are expected to be established at the COP 19 in Warsaw this year.

For migration and displacement practitioners and researchers, the decision gave a new entry point to mainstream mobility dimensions into the international climate change agenda. By including migration, displacement and human mobility into the text, the COP galvanized new research, reflection and discussions on the links between patterns of mobility and climate change in terms of loss and damage, sometimes also making the case for considering migration as a potential adaptation measure helping to limit loss and damage (this aspect of the relationship will however have to be dealt with separately under the Adaptation agenda).

The decision on loss and damage left the UNFCCC secretariat and the Subsidiary Body for Implementation (SBI) with some challenging homework for 2013, which provided an opportunity for a variety of institutional actors to contribute to the conceptual debate on loss and damage and to highlight their relevant experience and expertise. Along with an expert meeting on slow-onset events, the secretariat was tasked to prepare two technical papers aimed at exploring non-economic losses, and gaps in institutional arrangements necessary to address loss and damage. Both of these papers benefited from consultations with and inputs from many international organizations, including the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

As a result of joint efforts by several international agencies working on issues related to migration and displacement (IOM, UNHCR, IDMC-NRC, UNU-EHS among others), human mobility is now considered as one of the main types of non-economic losses associated with climate change [link to technical paper on non-economic losses published in October 2013. The inclusion of human mobility into a UNFCCC technical paper, which will serve as background for further decision-making as part of the climate change negotiations, is a very positive and encouraging development: indeed, it increases the chances that migration dimensions be integrated as part of items to be addressed (and financed) through the loss and damage work programme. The mapping exercise conducted for the second technical paper on institutional arrangements [link to technical paper on gaps in institutional arrangements published in November 2013 could in addition ensure that any future framework established to address loss and damage, including related human mobility dimensions, builds on the wealth of existing institutional capacities and knowledge, and avoids duplication of efforts.

Expectations are high for the COP 19 in Warsaw, where new institutional arrangements to address loss and damage are to be established, based on the preparatory work of the UNFCCC secretariat and the SBI in 2013. While the technical papers provide useful conceptual background and evidence, the challenge lies in reaching a compromise over a highly divisive topic: for indeed, the subject could have benefited from further preparatory discussions between representatives of Parties, experts and institutional actors involved.

Various meetings conducted at regional and international levels (such as the international conference in Bangkok organized by Japan in August 2013, and the UNFCCC expert meeting [link to Fiji expert meeting results in Fiji in September 2013), which gathered main stakeholders to discuss the loss and damage agenda, concluded that there was a need for increased action, capacity, technology and finance to address loss and damage. However, many items, such as the establishment of a financial mechanism, remain highly controversial, and a consensus between developing countries and some developed States would be hard to achieve. And since the SBI was unable to elaborate further concrete activities under the loss and damage work programme in Bonn in June (due to some procedural disputes which slowed down substantial work at the last SBI session), achieving any significant decision in Warsaw might require a miracle.

Meanwhile, the adaptation framework and the loss and damage work programme specifically provide the main concrete basis for the inclusion of migration issues (and social impacts at large) on the climate change action agenda. Trying to tackle challenges associated with climate change without addressing the human and social consequences makes little sense as developing countries continue sharing alarming evidence: such issues as loss and damage and human mobility related to climate change will have to be dealt with, and the sooner the better. The results of the next three COPs will show whether these issues will be addressed within the Convention or through external processes, entities and frameworks.

The last word remains with the States, but IOM and its partners remain committed to supporting the most vulnerable countries in finding solutions to address the human mobility aspects of both adaptation and loss and damage.