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In the Footsteps of Fridtjof Nansen: Towards a Global Protection Agenda

Fridtjof Nansen can be described as a man with numerous qualities: explorer, scientist, diplomat, humanitarian. In 1922, he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work on behalf of the displaced victims of the First World War and related conflicts. Nearly a century later, the Nansen Initiative aims at building a consensus on how to develop a protection agenda addressing the needs of people displaced across international borders due to natural hazards and climate change. Launched in October 2012 by the governments of Switzerland and Norway, the Nansen Initiative is a state-led, bottom up consultative process that currently explores regional dynamics and collaborative entry points to jointly address the challenges of internal and cross-border displacement.

In October 2014, this process took another step forward during a three day regional consultation on “Human Mobility in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change” held in Manila. If there is one region where displacement challenges have become most obvious in recent years, it is probably Southeast Asia: Typhoon Haiyan displaced more than 900,000 families in the Philippines in 2013, super typhoon Ketsana forced the evacuation of about 230,000 people in Cambodia and Vietnam in 2009, and Cyclone Nargis in Myanmar displaced approximately 800,000 people in 2008. In addition, earthquakes, tsunamis and volcanos have hit the region time and again.

Against this backdrop, more than a hundred participants representing governments, international organisations but also civil society discussed what should be part of a forward-looking protection agenda. The summary of conclusions also identifies key principles in the three areas of inter-state and international cooperation; standards of protection for displaced persons and operational responses. In addition, it specifies concrete good practices and tools for the protection of persons displaced across borders in the context of natural hazards. Among the areas to prioritize for future action are recommendations on planned relocation, which outline some of the steps needed to prepare for the unavoidable and to ensure effective and sustainable relocation.

Disaster risks and climate change challenges call for a better integration of these two areas – be it at a strategic level or based on updated guidelines at the operational level. The good news is that there are already regional processes to build on - such as the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response (AADMER) or the ASEAN Climate Change Initiative. The bad news is even after several years of political debate we are no closer to establishing a common language for both areas. Although the issue of climate-induced displacement was acknowledged in the outcome of the Cancun conference back in 2010 as part of the Cancun Adaptation Framework, the climate negotiations have so far kept mostly silent on how to design further activities to fully recognize the displacement issue as a core aspect of the discussion on climate change adaptation. The next chance to discuss how to link climate change and displacement and how to contribute to a global protection agenda is a side event on 11 December during the climate negotiations in Lima.