Evidence shows that migration can be a powerful adaptation tool in the context of climate change, and can help foster conditions for sustainable and inclusive human growth. Now the international community should integrate this knowledge in a meaningful way into a Global Compact for Safe, Regular and Orderly Migration.
Today, 4 November 2016, the world will celebrate the Paris Agreement on Climate Change entering into force.Mitigating emissions is of paramount importance to ensure that the development of communities around the world is not threatened by unabated nefarious climate impacts. While displacement of people may be perceived as a negative effect of a warming world, migration in general, including climate related migration,might be the opposite. Migration is a powerful strategy for communities to develop and adapt.
Unprecedented international cooperation will provide an important pathway to deliver on this potential. A global migration compact is a needed cornerstone for these efforts.
New Recognition of Age-Old Movements
community has committed through the 2030 Agenda to make the most of the
contributions of displaced people and migrants to sustainable and inclusive
development. UN member states identified the negative impacts of climate change
and of disasters among the “root causes” of movement addressed in the New York declaration and
its first paragraph, the New York Declaration recognizes the historical and
multi-causal dimensions of environmental migration, attempting to presentthe
linkages between environmental- and climate change-related
processes and migrationas a complex and nuanced phenomenon:
“1. Since earliest times, humanity has been on the move. Some people move in search of new economic opportunities and horizons. Others move to escape armed conflict, poverty, food insecurity, persecution, terrorism, or human rights violations and abuses. Still others do so in response to the adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters (some of which may be linked to climate change) or other environmental factors. Many move, indeed, for a combination of these reasons”. (Emphasis added)
The New York Declaration serves to lay out the road map for the negotiations on the proposed migration compact. In line with past practice, it emphasizes that the Global Compacts build on momentum gathered through the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, concerning measures to mitigate disaster risk, and by the Paris Agreement and states’ commitment to seeing it enter into force and implemented (para. 18). States reaffirmed the Addis Ababa Action Agenda (AAAA), recognizing of the positive contribution of migrants for inclusive growth and sustainable development in countries of origin, transit and destination.
Available evidence demonstrates that diasporas contribute financially, materially and politically to their home communities in the wake of natural disasters as well as in support of longer-term development and resilience building efforts. The AAAA commits states to reducing the cost of migrants remittances by 2030 to less than 3 per cent of the amount transferred, a commitment that will help ensure that migration can continue to help households insure themselves from risk. The global compact may build on this recognition and could place higher emphasis on social remittances, the skills, knowledge, and behaviours afforded by diaspora and return migrants. These are often as important in community development as monetary remittances.
Displaced by Disasters: Bringing Operational Effect to Principles
Considerable inconsistencies in protection and assistance of people displaced by disasters persist. The New York Declaration encourages the useful guidance provided by the states-ledAgenda for the Protection of Cross-Border Displaced Persons in the Context of Disasters and Climate (the ‘Nansen Initiative’ which now has birthed the Disaster Displacement Platform), and the Migrants in Countries in Crisis (MICIC) Initiative (para. 50). These initiativesand the Global Forum for Migration and Development (GFMD) have made progress at the margins of improving overall conditions for migrants by dealing with topics such as migrants affected by natural hazard-induced crises and people displaced across borders by disasters.
Remarkable success has
been achieved in confidence building within these voluntary, non-binding and
consultative processes. Importantly, these initiatives represent operational
and procedural guidelines for states’ responsibility to protect; in effect,
providing a road map for states. While not all states contribute to these
initiatives, recognising them as good practices in the New York Declarationhelps to elevate
these issues in the global compact discussions. The next step is to make further
progress on operationalizing existing norms and standards. This would help
better structure the international community’s work towards more informed,
coordinated and principled guidance to protect and assist people before, during
and after disaster strikes.
The majority of people uprooted by natural disasters are displaced within their home countries and are known as ‘internally displaced people’ (IDPs). Between 2008 and 2014, 157.6 million people were internally displaced by weather-related disasters. The New York Declaration will not address protection and assistance for member states’ internally displaced citizens, in part because the focus is on ‘Large Movements of Refugees and Migrants’ (emphasis added). IDPs, however, cannot be left out of efforts to alleviate poverty, instability, marginalization and exclusion and the lack of development and economic opportunities. These factors contribute to vulnerability to hazards and trap communities in a cycle of displacement.
No Refugee, Displaced Person or Migrant Left Behind
The process kick-started at the 19 September Summit represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to bring countries together to ensure every migrant and displaced person affected by climate change can help deliver on a promise of inclusive, long-term development.
The Global Compacts to be discussed into 2018 can do this in two main ways. First, states can produce an actionable, operational plan to implement existing agreements and guidelines, including those addressing disaster risk reduction as well as protection and assistance of displaced people - wherever they may be and whatever their migration status may be.
Second, states can
commit to increasing and enhancing safe pathways for all forms of migration, while
facilitating migrants’ ability to safely benefit from work in their destination
community as well as their ability to transfer financial, social and political
capital to their home communities.
On 21 September UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spearheaded an accession campaign for the Paris Agreement, providing needed impetus for states to jockey to be the one that tipped over the necessary threshold for the agreement to enter into force. This demonstration of political will, as well as the September meetings, indicate that the UN is at the trailhead in the path towards securing a future for millions of people affected by climate change. Efforts must be within the overall context of implementation of the 2030 Agenda and integration of sustainable development plans and human rights policies.
Migration should be a choice, not a necessity. Conditions can be fostered to better enable migration to be one tool to help human growth to achieve its full potential.
 Gemenne, Francois and Julia Blocher (2016)."How Can Migration Support Adaptation? Different options to test the nexus" IOM Working Paper Series.
 30 days after the conditions were met, namely, that it must be ratified by 55 countries party to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the combined emissions produced by those states must account for 55% of the global greenhouse gas emissions.
How do you see the general sentiment created in international community by the Paris Agreement, and what can be the ways forward to address the links between climate change and migration? Join the discussion and leave your comments below.
Cover Image: Closing ceremony of COP 21, 12 December 2015 [UN Photo, Flickr]