Climate change and migration researchers and practitioners have been focused on Glasgow over the past two weeks. While an agreement was reached in the final hours of the 26th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), progress on some of the key issues of relevance to the HABITABLE project fell short of expectations.
High expectations cause high potential for disappointment
In particular, this year’s COP was expected to raise ambitions for adaptation financing as well as to highlight the issue of loss and damage, to help people in developing countries cope with the unavoidable harms of anthropogenic climate change. Meaningful government actions on both of these issues are critical to averting, minimizing, and addressing vulnerabilities that contribute to displacement risks; build communities’ capacities to adapt in situ; strengthen the development potential of voluntary migration; and ensure that marginalized communities do not continue to suffer the worst climate change impacts although they contributed the least to historical emissions. In the final text of the 2021 Glasgow climate pact, COP26 delegates only agreed to discuss ‘arrangements’ for loss and damage and did not agree concretely to a new financing facility as many had hoped. In a debate hosted by the New York Times Climate Hub entitled ‘Migration Is a Sound Adaptation and Reparations Strategy’ on 3 November, HABITABLE Lead Dr. François Gemenne warned attendees of the dangers of such inaction: “We have a duty to protect communities from the worst impacts of climate change. We are failing people if we give up on mitigation.” Migration and displacement often connected to the intangible non-economic losses and damages of climate change, such as cultural identity and social cohesion. For low-lying Small Island Developing States (SIDS), in particular, failure to act on climate change mitigation represents a threat to territorial existence and cultural continuity.
It is not just about climate change – Intersecting vulnerabilities
In the same debate of the New York Times Climate Hub, HABITABLE researcher Julia M. Blocher of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK) noted that regardless of climate-related migration trends, significant in situ adaptation efforts are needed to build resilience in home communities. This is not least because many people are unable to – or choose not to – migrate in response to climate change because of intersecting vulnerabilities. “What matters is that migration is a choice - and a choice for all,” she said, “We can try to achieve this through ambitious mitigation, resilience-building, and adaptation policies.”
Researchers and practitioners raised the role of intersecting vulnerabilities in human mobility throughout the COP, in relation to disaster risk, forced migration, urban sustainability, and more. HABITABLE Scientific Coordinator Dr. Caroline Zickgraf moderated a side event on 8 November entitled ‘Intersectionality at the Nexus of Climate, Human Mobility, Loss and Damage: Regional Perspectives’ The goal of the event was, in Dr. Zickgraf’s words: “Look at how power and marginalization meet at a crossroads and how that power and marginality manifest when it comes to human mobility. Let’s look at that from a context perspective, and connecting that, of course, to the policy messages we want to give out to policymakers attending here and virtually.” Researcher Tatiana Castillo Betancourt from the Hugo Observatory of the University of Liège underlined the often-overlooked role of gender and how multiple and intersecting identities relate to one’s capacities to cope with climate impacts.
The elephant in the room: Covid-19
A key issue on the minds of many at COP26 was the Covid-19 pandemic. The pandemic exposes global as well as local inequalities that influence people’s experiences with climate change as well as their experiences with migration. Notably, anti-migrant rhetoric and violence rose significantly in many countries. Ms. Maria Franco Gavonel, a researcher from the University of Exeter contributing to HABITABLE as well as the Migration, transformation and sustainability (Misty) project noted: “Covid was a wake-up call in a sense, because it exacerbated the need for migrants to assimilate into their new societies.” One key impact of the pandemic, underlined Professor Neil Adger of the University of Exeter, was to change people’s attitudes towards the cities in which they live. The phenomenon of so-called ‘reverse migration’ – in which people migrated from crowded urban areas to a more secure subsistence in rural, agricultural areas – was noticeable in many developing countries. Speaking to media at the COP, Prof. Adger underlined the potential transformative role of migration and the need to include migrants in plans to building a fairer and more environmentally sustainable future.
No ‘one size fits all’ - Finding context specific solutions
Policy solutions to many of the issues around climate-related human mobility were addressed in a side event on 11 November entitled ‘From Science to Policy to Action: Human Mobility in Times of Climate Change’ (video link requires registration) hosted in the EU Pavilion and co-organized by the Platform on Disaster Displacement (PDD), the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research (PIK), the International Youth Federation (IYF), and Youth4Nature. This event featured HABITABLE consortium members Professor François Gemenne, Dr. Kira Vinke (GDAP/PIK), and Ms. Julia M. Blocher (PIK/IYF), as well as other panelistsMr. Ahmad Yazan Miri (Youth4Nature), Mr. Firas Khalifeh (Carbon Mobile), Teea Tira (Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat), Terry Atalifo (Fiji Meteorological Service) and Mr. Nacanieli Speigth (IDMC). Prof. Gemenne stated during this event: “When we discuss how science can translate into policy and action [on climate-related human mobility], we know that here is no one-size-fits all solution and that the policy interventions that need to be deployed onsite will be context specific. Depending on the situation, depending on the type of impact of climate change, but also depending on the type of migration flow, we will need to deploy different policy tools and different solutions.” During the event, Dr. Vinke and Ms. Blocher provided concrete suggestions to improve policy responses to human mobility in the context of climate change. For example:strengthen livelihoods in origin areas; provide trainings in order to develop new skills needed for new (non- agricultural) occupations after migration; strengthen save housing and prevent gender based violence especially in destination areas; improve data collection on migration for better measurement of migration impacts; bring together stakeholders from policy, science and action and enable exchange and collaboration; and better inclusion of women, youth, and climate-affected people in policy development and implementation.
COP 27: Expectations remain high
Much work remains to be done to ensure people are also to choose when and how to migrate, and to do so in a ways that ensures migration contributes positively to their livelihoods and families. With the doors of COP26 barely closed, people are already looking to next year’s COP in Egypt for higher ambitions on adaptation and loss and damage as well as greater attention to the needs of communities in developing countries.