Global Mobility Trends: Climate Migration

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Global Warming of 1.5°C report estimates that global temperatures are 1.0°C above pre-industrial levels, while warming is likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052.

Meanwhile, the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report 2018 identifies the following top nine global risks, in descending order: weapons of mass destruction; extreme weather events; natural disasters; failure of climate change mitigation and adaptation; water crises; cyber-attacks; food crises; biodiversity loss and ecosystem collapse; and large-scale involuntary migration. Seven are likely to be influenced by climate change, which, combined with other drivers, already results in climate migration.

However, climate change is also causing forcible displacement following extreme weather events (such as cyclones) or slow-onset events (such as drought or sea-level rise). Climate migration or displacement may be temporary or permanent, and internal or across borders. The 2016 Global Report on Internal Displacement found that, worldwide, there are twice as many people displaced internally as across borders.

But are people who cross borders ‘climate refugees’? A refugee is defined under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees as a person who has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Consequently, the International Organization for Migration’s term ‘climate-displaced persons’ (CDPs) is now preferred.

Estimates about the scale of climate displacement vary from 25 million people at the conservative end, to 1 billion in the middle, to 2 billion at the high end.

Estimates about the scale of climate displacement vary from “25 million at the conservative end, to 1 billion in the middle, and 2 billion at the high end”. To better protect CDPs, the Task Force on Displacement, mandated under the Paris Agreement, has recommended that countries adopt the following measures: implement legislation, policies, and strategies to avert, minimize, and address displacement, taking human rights into consideration; map, understand, and manage human mobility; strengthen preparedness, including early warning systems, contingency planning, evacuation planning, and resilience building; integrate human mobility into national planning processes; protect internally displaced persons; and facilitate the orderly, safe, and responsible migration and mobility of people, by enhancing opportunities for regular migration pathways.

Meanwhile, the UN Global Compact for Migration, including climate-induced migration, aims to mitigate the factors that hinder people from building and maintaining sustainable livelihoods in their countries of origin; reduce the risks that migrants face, by protecting their human rights; and create conditions that enable migrants to enrich society through their human, economic, and social capacities.

2018 was an important year in terms of international recognition for the plight of CDPs. The recommendations of both the Task Force on Displacement and the UN Global Compact should result in far better protections for them in the future.

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