Climate stressors, such as changing rainfall, heavy flooding, sea level rise etc. put pressure on people to leave their homes and livelihoods behind. Countries with a combination of low adaptive capacities, vulnerable geographies and fragile ecosystems are at the highest risk. Island countries in the Pacific and countries in the Global South such as Tuvalu and India are high risk countries that are facing serious ramifications of such climate stressors.
Nobody leaves their home willingly, the predicament that all climate migrants face is “If I stay I will have nothing, if I leave I will have nothing.” it is a grim fate either way albeit they will get a chance to restart from scratch if they choose the latter, which they usually do. The people who are the most vulnerable are usually the poorest and come from the economically and socially weaker sections of society as they do not have the resources or capacity to sustain themselves in the onslaught of a climate induced disaster. They majorly come from rural areas, and their livelihoods often depend on climate sensitive sectors, such as agriculture and fishing.
There are no reliable estimates of the number of people who have been displaced due to climate induced migrations. There are multiple reasons it is so, but the main are: the movement is usually intra-border rather that crossborders and govt bodies don’t keep a solid track of reason of movement within their borders, it could also be for multiple reasons and not only climate induced such as communal conflict, better quality of life, political instability etc.
As much as there is a huge amount of action and measures being taken up on the global forums to tackle climate change we see a lack of consensus on how to deal with climate displacements. Oftentimes terms such as “environmental refugees” “climate refugees” “climate migrants” are used interchangeably. The United Nations High Commissioner For Refugees (UNHCR) recognises such persons as ‘environmental migrants’ and refuses to accord them a refugee status.
The New York Declaration (2016) provided a starting point for the countries to commence with negotiations on the various aspects of international migration.
We know climate change affects different people differently, the disproportionate impact of climate change on women is glaringly obvious, systemic injustices and gender discrimination makes women more likely than men to face climate induced harm. Inaccessibility to sanitary products and healthy menstrual practices is detrimental to their quality of life and poses a challenge to their right to live with dignity.
Children uprooted in the process of climate migration face severe challenges in catching up with their peer group and show signs of mental distress and PTSD in some cases. Due to climate induced disasters and reasons relating to them children are withdrawn from schools and lose out on a sense of order and social interaction with peers of their age which they might not get in their home environment. This hinders their normal development. There is also a notable difference in the power dynamics of a child and an adult/provider and in times of climate induced disasters, children may not have that protection they usually have.
The elderly also face several vulnerabilities in times of climate disaster, they are usually not as fit or have the capacity to work and provide for themselves compared to youths. They are also more susceptible to disease and sickness.
Climate change is already causing migration and displacement, with potentially unprecedented scale and scope. The most vulnerable populations in least developed countries and small island states will be heavily affected, posing significant consequences for development, human security, and political stability. Economic and political factors currently drive migration, but climate change is having a detectable impact.
1. The breakdown of ecosystem-dependent livelihoods will be a major driver of long-term migration.
2. Disasters will continue to cause shorter-term displacement.
3. Seasonal migration and the search for viable ecosystems will become more common.
4. Glacier melt and sea-level rise will affect agricultural systems and coastal areas, threatening food production.
5. Certain regions, such as the Ganges, Mekong, and Nile River deltas, will be particularly impacted.
6. Many vulnerable populations lack the resources to escape the negative impacts of climate change.
1. Reduce greenhouse gas emissions to safe levels to avoid dangerous climate change.
2. Protect the dignity and basic rights of persons displaced by climate change, treating it as a "human security" issue.
3. Increase people's resilience to climate change to reduce forced migration, particularly by assisting vulnerable populations in building climate-resilient livelihoods.
4. Establish mechanisms and binding commitments to ensure that adaptation funding reaches the most vulnerable populations.
5. Recognize and facilitate the role of migration in individual, household, and national adaptation strategies.
6. Close gaps in protection by integrating climate change into existing frameworks for dealing with displacement and migration.
7. Strengthen the capacity of national and international institutions to protect the rights of those displaced by climate change.
Overall, addressing the threats posed by climate-related migration requires global action and consideration of the unique challenges presented by climate change. It is essential to protect the rights of environmentally-induced migrants and invest in resilience-building measures to mitigate forced migration.