Don’t forget migration while making policies on climate change

  • William Lacy Swing
  • Updated: Dec 11, 2015 01:06 IST
A climate agreement in Paris will open new ground to build sustainable economies and hence address some of the root causes of migratory flows. (Reuters)

With some one billion people on the move around the world, we are confronted with tragedies brought about by migration. The effects of climate change, that force people to migrate either within countries or across borders, compound these tragedies. A climate agreement in Paris will open new ground to build sustainable economies and hence address some of the root causes of migratory flows. From a migration perspective, advances in both the mitigation and adaptation goals are important. The effects of climate change — intertwined with those of wars, social unrest and poverty — exacerbate human insecurity.

Migration can be an adaptation strategy and migration policy has a major role in being part of the solution. This includes putting in place policies to manage the movement of people; favouring international labour agreements allowing people from degraded areas to move and creating a policy environment to channel migrants’ financial and social contributions into adaptation efforts.

Climate change also threatens the well-being of populations, endangering livelihoods through desertification, water stress and droughts. The South Asia region exemplifies these dangers, and the combination of both immediate and long-term climatic threats make it one of the world’s most vulnerable regions. One strategy for adapting to climate change is to ease migratory pressure on at-risk populations. This can be done by linking disaster response with climate adaptation strategies, thereby increasing the resilience of affected communities. This means supporting local climate adaptation projects to diversify livelihoods, improve infrastructures and provide energy. These interventions in migration-prone areas would provide residents with the choice of migrating or not.

When areas become inhospitable, safe migration channels should be made available to those who wish to move. Diasporas and established migrant communities should also be engaged as climate adaptation “champions”. Addressing climate change, mitigating its effects, and financing adaptation in all countries will be crucial. For this to happen world leaders need to conclude an enforceable global climate agreement in Paris. Climate and migration are crucial global policy challenges. We need the climate policy community to integrate migration concerns in the climate agreement.

William Lacy Swing is director general, International Organization for Migration. The views expressed are personal.

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