By Dina Ionesco
UNITED NATIONS, Aug 6 2019 (IPS)
Atlas of Environmental Migration, which gives examples dating
as far back as 45,000 years ago, shows that environmental changes
and natural disasters have played a role in how the population is
distributed on our planet throughout history.
However, it is highly likely that undesirable environmental
changes directly created by, or amplified by, climate change, will
extensively change the patterns of human settlement.
Future degradation of land used for agriculture and farming, the
disruption of fragile ecosystems and the depletion of precious
natural resources like fresh water will directly impact people’s
lives and homes.
The climate crisis is already having an effect: according to the
Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 17.2
million people had to leave their homes last year, because of
disasters that negatively affected their lives.
Slow changes in the environment, such as ocean acidification,
desertification and coastal erosion, are also directly impacting
people’s livelihoods and their capacity to survive in their
places of origin.
There is a strong possibility that more people will migrate in
search of better opportunities, as living conditions get worse in
their places of origin:
There are predictions for the twenty-first century indicating
that even more people will have to move as a result of these
adverse climate impacts. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate
Change (IPCC), the main UN
authority on climate science, has repeatedly said that the changes
brought on by the climate crisis will influence migration
World Bank has put forward projections for internal climate
migration amounting to 143 million people by 2050 in three regions
of the world, if no climate action is taken.
However, our level of awareness and understanding of how
environmental factors affect migration, and how they also interact
with other migration drivers such as demographic, political and
economic conditions, has also changed. With enhanced knowledge,
there is more incentive to act urgently, be prepared and
The Global Compact for Migration: a roadmap for
In the past decade, there has been a growing political awareness
of the issues around environmental migration, and increasing
acceptance that this is a global challenge.
Herders take their animals to drink water in Niger., by FAO/Giulio Napolitano
As a result, many states have signed up to landmark agreements,
such as the Paris Climate
Change Agreement, the Sendai
Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction and the Global Compact for Migration, which
marks a clear way forward for governments to address the issue of
climate and migration.
The Compact contains many references to environmental migration
including a whole section on measures to address environmental and
climate challenges: it is the first time that a comprehensive
vision has been laid out, showing how states can handle – now and
in the future – the impacts of climate change, disasters and
environmental degradation on international migration.
Our analysis of the
Compact highlights the priorities of states, when it comes to
addressing environmental migration. Their primary concern is to
“minimize the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel
people to leave their country of origin”, in particular the
“natural disasters, the adverse effects of climate change, and
In other words, the main priority is to find solutions that
allow people to stay in their homes and give them the means to
adapt to changing environmental conditions. This approach aims to
avoid instances of desperate migration and its associated
Rohingya refugees make their way down a footpath during a heavy
monsoon downpour in Kutupalong refugee settlement, Cox’s Bazar
district. 2018. Credit: UNHCR/David Azia
However, where climate change impacts are too intense, another
priority put forward in the Compact is to “enhance availability
and flexibility of pathways for regular migration. States are thus
looking at solutions for people to be able to migrate safely and
through regular channels, and at solutions for those already on the
A last resort measure is to conduct planned relocations of
population – this means organizing the relocation of entire
villages and communities away from areas bearing the brunt of
climate change impacts.
Humanitarian assistance and protection for those on the move
already, are also tools states can use. Finally, states highlight
that relevant data and knowledge are key to guide the
decision-making process. Without knowing more and analyzing better,
policies run the risk of missing their targets and fade into
A range of solutions to a complex problem
Responding to the challenges of environmental migration in a way
that benefits both countries and communities, including migrants
and refugees, is a complex process involving many different
Solutions can range from tweaking migration practices, such as
visa regimes, to developing human rights-based protection measures.
Most importantly, they involve a coordinated approach from national
governments, bringing together experts from different walks of
There is no one single solution to respond to the challenge of
environmental migration, but there are many solutions that tackle
different aspects of this complex equation. Nothing meaningful can
ever be achieved without the strong involvement of civil society
actors and the communities themselves who very often know what is
best for them and their ways of life.
I also think that we need to stop discourses that focus only on
migrants as victims of tragedy. The bigger picture is certainly
bleak at times, but we need to remember that migrants demonstrate
everyday their resilience and capacity to survive and thrive in
Dina Ionesco is the head of the Migration,
Environment and Climate Change Division at the UN International
Organization for Migration (IOM),
which has been at the forefront of efforts to study the links
between migration, the environment and climate.
Source: FS – All – Ecology – News
Environmental Migration a Global Challenge