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.