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COP26: How Will Climate Change Impact Global Migration?

After being postponed due to COVID-19, the COP26 climate talks are upon us. From 1st to 12th November 2021, delegates from around the world will gather in Glasgow to discuss the number one existential issue facing everyone on the planet – climate change. While much of the discussion will be on how to keep temperatures from rising above 1.5 degrees on average, the conversation will also focus on the likely impact on global migration. Even if temperatures can be kept below the target threshold (and this is a big ‘if’), warming is already occurring, causing some places to become uninhabitable, and this is likely to become a much broader issue.

In this article, from the opinion of an immigration solicitor we will take a look at some of the global immigration-related issues which may be discussed at the COP26 climate change talks in Glasgow in November 2021.

What are the overall goals of the COP26 climate talks?

The COP26 official documents don’t labour under false illusions about the current trajectory of the world; “The world is currently not on track to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees. The targets announced in Paris would result in warming well above 3 degrees by 2100 compared to pre-industrial levels”.

There are four main goals of the COP26 talks, these are to:

  • · Secure global net-zero by mid-century and keep 1.5 degrees within reach
  • · Adapt to protect communities and natural habitats
  • · Mobilise finance to reach the commitment of $100bn in climate finance per year
  • · Work together to deliver and finalise the Paris Rulebook and accelerate action to tackle the climate crisis through collaboration between governments, businesses and civil society.

The themes of COP26 include mitigation, adaptation, finance, and collaboration.

Will global migration be discussed at COP26?

Global migration due to climate change will certainly be a main discussion point during COP26. As the International Organization for Migration (IOM) explains, “In the last decade, issues of migration and human mobility have increasingly been considered within the work of the UNFCCC and the annual COP meetings - with IOM’s active involvement - and they are now fully institutionalised with dedicated workstreams under the UNFCCC, such as the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage Associated with Climate Change Impacts (WIM)”.

Even in the events leading up to COP26, migration due to climate change has been a key point of discussion. For example, one recent event looked at the migration of populations in West Africa due to climate change, disasters, and land degradation.

Global migration due to climate change has also featured in several of the most recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reports, laying bare what a critical issue it is already becoming.

What is known about the possible impacts of climate change on global migration?

Climate migration is defined by the IOM as “the movement of a person or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment due to climate change, are obliged to leave their habitual place of residence, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, within a State or across an international border.”

There is an undeniable link between the two as it is well established that changes such as sea-level rise, increasing temperatures, and loss of crop growing viability (to name but a few issues) will cause people to find new places to live. As the IOM state, “Environmental change and disasters have always been major drivers of migration”. However, as the IPCC’s 2014 report confirms, climate change is going to drive migration beyond the norm; “Climate change predictions for the 21st century indicate that even more people are expected to be on the move as extreme weather-related events, such as floods, droughts and storms become more frequent and intense”.

They also explain that various types of migration will occur due to climate change, including:

  • forced and voluntary
  • temporary and permanent
  • internal and international
  • individual and collective
  • close vs long distance

In addition, the nature of any migration which occurs depends on the context in which change is occurring. The IOM explain that some occurrences of migration will involve slow onset events and processes such as sea-level rise, increasing temperatures, and land degradation. In some cases, it will follow more sudden events and processes such as flooding and extreme weather events driven by climate change. Other elements which will come into play include socio-economic, cultural, and political factors that will ultimately shape the decision as to when to leave, whether to leave en-masse, where to go, and whether to leave permanently or temporarily. In addition to climate migration, migration is also likely to occur due to organised, planned migration, disaster displacement, and normal human mobility. As such, global migration due to climate change is a multi-factorial and complex issue that cannot be understood in isolation.

For this reason, human mobility due to climate change has its own strategic workstream (d) on the UNFCC’s five-year workplan, which is to ensure “Enhanced cooperation and facilitation in relation to human mobility, including migration, displacement and planned relocation”.

What will need to be done to address global migration due to climate change in the future?

This is a substantial subject and one that we will focus on specifically in future articles. According to Refugees International, some of the types of action which will be necessary to address this enormous issue include:

  • · Urgently support vulnerable countries in their efforts to scale up prevention and preparedness measures to avert, minimise, and address displacement as a form of loss and damage.
  • · Support the formulation and implementation of National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) that incorporate human mobility considerations.
  • · Provide resources to help implement the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage’s (WIM) Task Force on Displacement’s recommendations to strengthen support for countries most vulnerable to climate change and continued support implementation of the TFD workplan.
  • · Establish loss and damage as a permanent, standalone agenda item for all future COPs/CMAs, and appoint a special COP26 loss and damage envoy to mobilise and enhance political will.
  • · Provide guidance and assistance to vulnerable countries on how to access sustainable, adequate, and predictable finance for addressing climate change-related human mobility, including for local-level action, through both climate change adaptation measures and loss and damage solutions.
  • · Ensure efforts to address human mobility within the UNFCCC process are coordinated and coherent with other relevant processes in the UN system, building synergies and avoiding duplication.

Final words

The COP26 conference in Glasgow will offer an invaluable opportunity to bring focus to and discuss matters relating to the potential impact of climate change on global migration. We will keep you up to date with migration-related developments from the conference as they are announced.

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