The Urgency of Addressing Climate-Induced Migration

By Katherine Maloney, Dominican Volunteer

April 24 – May 3 marked the sixteenth convening of the Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues. Concurrently, it marked the first outreach efforts by civil society groups to various member states on behalf of the NGO Committee on Migration to advocate for a human rights-based approach to the Global Compact on Migration. During both the Permanent Forum and member state outreach, the issue of climate-induced migration made its way to the forefront as a prominent, and often distressing, problem that many member states will be facing in the very near future. Evidence provided from a side event to the Permanent Forum as well as outreach to the governments of Fiji, Kenya, and Nigeria provided a well-rounded picture at the dire need for urgent action to address the root causes of climate-induced migration as well as ensure that the rights of climate-induced migrants are upheld at every point of the process, from the country of origin to the transit process, and finally in the country of destination.

The International Organization on Migration (IOM) at the United Nations states that climate-induced migration is somewhat of a “two way street.” Migration can be the result of natural disasters or other environmental factors, and increased migration to new areas can cause harm to the ecosystem. Further, IOM states that climate-related migration will increase as climate change occurs at an unprecedented rate. This notion was echoed clearly by the Permanent Mission of Fiji. As the timeline for fulfillment of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) continues, Fiji finds itself in a precarious position. Within the next five years, migrants from nearby Kiribati and Tuvalu will be making their way to the mainland of Fiji, as rising sea levels make their homes uninhabitable. At the same time, Fijians living in maritime towns will have to move into the more mountainous regions. Thus, the fulfillment of the SDGs for Fiji will not only have to include far more people than previously expected, but difficult decisions on whether or not to develop the maritime towns in the short-term will have to be made. The case is similar in Tuvalu; is there a purpose in investing in development if the population will be forced to move? The representative of Fiji also expressed dismay over the fact that climate change is being debated, and not addressed with the urgency required. While migration throughout the Pacific region and Small Island Development States will likely only see several hundred people on the move, climate-induced is nonetheless an issue that will eventually reach every corner of the globe.

Across the African continent, climate change will have grave impacts. Representatives from Kenya and Nigeria stated that climate change is already an issue for farmers, many of whom are displaced due to ongoing droughts and the shortening of the rainy season. Farmers from Niger and Chad must move their livestock in pursuit of food and water sources, and this creates strife as they move through the farmlands of Nigeria. In Kenya, drought conditions have made growing difficult. Representatives from both countries expressed interest in addressing climate induced migration as a key component of the Global Compact on Migration.

During the Permanent Forum, civil society colleagues from the Company of the Daughters of Charity, the NGO Committee on Migration, and the Unitarian Universalist United Nations NGO collaborated to host an event titled “Climate-Induced Displacement: Realities, Rights, and Responses;” a video of the event is available for viewing through the Dominican Leadership Conference Facebook page. At the event, a UN Environment (UNEP) representative provided those in attendance with a number of useful resources for all stakeholders to use in learning about and advocating for those displaced by climate change. He spoke about the “Give Me 5” campaign, a civil society initiative to urge member states to contribute more financial resources towards the Sustainable Development Goals (which include goals on protecting our lands and water), and less towards military development. He also mentioned the popular, an organization committed to building people power towards a low-carbon economy supported by environmentally friendly policies.

In addition, the realities of people on the ground facing climate-induced migration were discussed. Roughly 19 million people are facing displacement as a result of climate change, in all regions. Climate change threatens to completely dismantle long-held agricultural traditions and livelihoods. In indigenous communities around the world, extractive industries are threatening the livelihoods, cultures, and subsistence-based way of life of the people as well as having an impact on the larger environment. Examples of this are found in the United States, particularly as a result of the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota and the Spectra Pipeline in New York and New Jersey. Throughout indigenous communities in the Amazon, corporations construct mining operations on indigenous land and exploit the land despite the pleas of the people. It is even believed that the Syrian conflict was in part due to prolonged drought.

The Paris Climate Agreement is a landmark agreement made by 144 United Nations member states to mitigate climate change. While it is not legally binding, every major economy in the world is actively ratifying the agreement, which is often seen at the key hope in slowing the rapid progression of climate change. At this time, the United States is entering talks to determine whether or not it will remain party to the convention. If the United States chooses to walk away from the agreement, the impact will be felt in some way or another by everyone, and most heavily in the Global South – from the families migrating from Tuvalu to Fiji, to the mother scrounging to provide for her children amidst natural disaster and drought in Madagascar, to the Syrians mired in ongoing civil war, to the farmers struggling through another year of limited rain and poor harvests in the African Sahel. Real people – with families, friends, and ordinary lives – will suffer. Now is the time to have important dialogues, but it is also the time to act and reinforce the responsibility that the Global North has to help our fellow man in the Global South to create a cleaner, greener world for us all.