Justice for climate migrants

Climate change is expected to displace tens of millions of people by mid-century, especially in the Global South. By enhancing international cooperation, we could improve the lives and livelihoods of the displaced and develop sustainable solutions that enable affected communities to rebuild.

Flooding in Kolkata, India. The Global South is disproportionally affected by the catastrophic effects of climate change. Image: Dibakar Roy via Unsplash

In recent years, climate change has emerged as one of the leading drivers of migration. Shifting weather patterns, together with the growing severity and frequency of extreme weather events, have affected millions of people around the world, posing a significant threat to their lives and livelihoods.

In March, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) published its sixth assessment report (AR6), revealing that for every additional 1° Celsius rise in global temperatures, the risk of involuntary displacement due to flooding is expected to increase by roughly 50 per cent. In Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America, slow-onset climate disasters such as water stress, crop failure, and rising sea levels could displace 31-72 million people by 2050 under a low-warming scenario. In a high-warming scenario, the number of displaced people could surge to 90-143 million. In Sub-Saharan Africa, flood-related displacement could rise by 200-600 per cent by the 2070s, depending on the rate of population growth and anticipated temperature increases ranging from 1.6°C to 2.6°C.

While the Global South is disproportionally affected by the catastrophic effects of climate change, no part of the world is immune. The climate crisis will have far-reaching implications for global stability, security, and sustainable development, affecting not only migrants’ countries of origin but also transit and destination countries.

The COP27 Presidency and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) are committed to addressing the challenge of climate-induced migration with the goal of fostering a more just and equitable world. Over the past year, we have collaborated with governments, civil-society organizations, other UN agencies, and various stakeholders to develop and promote sustainable approaches to climate-related mobility, including displacement.

To reduce the adverse effects of climate change that compel migrants to leave their countries of origin, we advocate the full implementation of the Global Compact for Migration. With the support of the IOM, the COP27 Presidency has highlighted Egyptian programs like the Climate Responses for Sustaining Peace and the Decent Life Initiative as models that could be replicated worldwide. Taken together, these initiatives offer a roadmap for sustainable development, enabling governments to improve living standards and maintain peace in the face of climate-related threats. We have actively promoted these initiatives in various formal and informal forums, including the Global Forum on Migration and Development.

For sure, there is still much work to be done. To address the urgent threat posed by climate change, the international community must support adaptation efforts, particularly in the Global South. Strengthening resilience is crucial to empowering populations to make informed decisions about whether to relocate or remain where they are. Achieving this, however, requires immediate and substantial financing for adaptation initiatives, including the much-anticipated Loss and Damage Fund for developing countries announced at COP27 in Sharm El-Sheikh. Other crucial steps include ensuring the complementarity and accessibility of climate-funding instruments and incorporating human-mobility considerations into climate negotiations.

As we approach COP28, we must focus on climate-related migration and displacement and develop concrete solutions that promote the safety and well-being of affected communities and individuals. This involves supporting the implementation of effective initiatives and the integration of migrants’ perspectives and experiences into decision-making processes.

Climate change often exacerbates existing challenges and vulnerabilities, forcing communities to confront compounding crises. Therefore, it is crucial to recognise and address these underlying factors, including conflict, poverty, and inequality. To this end, we must adopt a holistic approach that promotes peace and security, reduces poverty and inequality, and fosters sustainable development.

Displacement is a complex and daunting challenge that requires a comprehensive, coordinated, and forward-looking response. By enhancing international cooperation, we could significantly improve the lives and livelihoods of those displaced by climate disasters and develop sustainable solutions that enable them to rebuild and contribute to their communities’ development. This approach is not only the right thing to do; it is also a crucial step toward building a more peaceful, just, and sustainable future for everyone.

The stakes of the current climate crisis are, or should be, obvious. The Mediterranean region, in particular, is no stranger to devastating environmental changes, as historical evidence suggests that extreme weather events may have triggered mass displacement and led to the downfall of great civilizations during what is now known as the Late Bronze Age Collapse.

To address climate-related displacement effectively, we must first understand and acknowledge the scale and complexity of the challenge. Only then will we recognise the need to engage all relevant stakeholders to develop proactive and sustainable solutions, avert the catastrophic effects of climate change, and build a world that is both prosperous and just.

Sameh Shoukry is COP27 President and Egyptian Minister of Foreign Affairs. Amy E. Pope is Director-General of the International Organization for Migration.

Copyright: Project Syndicate, 2023.

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