World leaders gathered at the United Nations in New York for the Climate Mobility Summit between September 19 and 21. On the sidelines, heads of vulnerable nations highlighted the challenges they face as extreme weather displaces millions.
During the summit, leaders from countries like Guatemala and Somalia called for cooperation between wealthy and developing nations to manage the increasing global migration flow.
While most migrants move within their own countries or regions, a significant number have sought work and refuge in the United States and Europe. This has contributed to political controversies.
There’s widespread recognition that climate change is a major driver of global migration. Extreme weather currently creates over 20 million new climate migrants each year, according to the UN. And this figure only considers internal migration, not international migration.
The number of climate migrants in the Horn of Africa region is expected to reach tens of millions in the coming decades, accounting for up to 10 percent of the population. This information comes from research conducted by the Global Center for Climate Mobility, which organized the summit. The Center, backed by UN member states and international agencies, aims to address the issue of climate migration.
Amy Pope, the director-general-elect of the International Organization for Migration, shared a firsthand account of visiting a refugee camp in Kenya. The camp hosted over 100,000 people who fled Somalia due to a debilitating drought. Pope highlighted the challenges faced by those who attempted to return to Somalia but found that the drought had made agricultural activities impossible.
As climate change forces more people to leave their homes, affected communities are mourning the loss of the culture and history that is intertwined with their ancestral homelands. I am proud of the support demonstrated by the global community today. https://t.co/QlAEZnjrjd
— Amy Pope (@AmyEPope) September 22, 2023
The Center expects that climate change will be the only cause of migration in certain nations. For instance, Tuvalu, located in the South Pacific, is already experiencing the impacts of rising sea levels due to its low elevation. These rising sea levels threaten Tuvalu’s infrastructure, territorial integrity, and culture.
During the summit, delegates emphasized the need for governments to recognize climate mobility hotspots and develop new international agreements and policies to manage migration flows.
Colombian environment minister María Susana Muhamad González pointed out that criminal networks already control the route between Colombia and Panama, which eventually extends northward into the United States. As climate migrants increasingly use this route, governments must decide whether to take control or allow criminal organizations to gain more influence.
Colombia provides legal recognition and government support to migrants affected by civil war. However, according to Inside Climate News, there are no such provisions for climate migrants in the country
Migration can strain local governments and communities, but it can also serve as a tool for climate adaptation. Proper planning can ensure that migrants contribute to new labor pools and economic growth in struggling regions.
Bangladesh, one of the most climate-vulnerable countries, has implemented a program that offers vocational training to new urban migrants. This enables climate migrants to strengthen the communities that they settle in.
However, there are limits to this adaptation. Government research indicates that Bangladesh can accommodate approximately 10 million internal migrants, but beyond that, people would have to leave the country. The World Bank predicts that Bangladesh could experience around 13.3 million internally displaced climate migrants by mid-century.
Fiji, on the other hand, has identified 600 at-risk communities that will require relocation due to rising sea levels. Despite being in a relatively better position compared to other small island Pacific nations, Fiji anticipates absorbing many migrants thanks to its larger land area. Migration is only a stopgap measure.
According to Henry Puna, the secretary general of the Pacific Islands Forum, climate migration will be most challenging for small island nations. Migration means leaving behind ancestral lands and relocating somewhere else. In the future, these nations will face challenges in maintaining their sovereignty as their territories vanish.
Image Source: Connecticut Green Building, https://shorturl.at/bEV19