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Wanted! Institutional home to tackle climate-induced displacement!

According to the report, 19.2 million new displacements in 2015 can be associated with disasters in 113 countries across all regions of the world. Of course, only part of these events, such as floods, storms, wildfires, landslides or extreme temperatures may be influenced by a changing climate. Others, like earthquakes and volcanic eruptions, are not. However, looking at concrete events that are relevant in the context of climate change, the impacts reveal the dangerous potential of a rise in the greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere:

  • Two major flood and storm events in India were responsible for 81 per cent of the displacement, forcing three million people to flee their homes
  • Three large scale typhoons and a flood disaster triggered a combined 2.2 million displaced people or 75 percent of the total displacement in China in 2015
  • Seasonal floods in Malawi displaced the majority of the 343,000 people who fled their homes in 2015, and caused widespread damage to agriculture. 

Policymakers, civil society representatives and experts have been discussing for quite some time how to address the challenges of climate induced displacement, not least as part of the climate change architecture. From a legal, political and scientific perspective this is a challenging task due to the complex cause-and-effect relationship.

Against this backdrop, the decision text to the Paris Agreement may have opened the door for an institutional framework pertaining to this challenge: The Paris Conference of the Parties (COP) asked for the establishment of a task force to develop recommendations for further action. More concretely, the aim is to ensure integrated approaches that help “to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change.” The main body to guide this process is the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism, which plays the ball into the field of the loss and damage debate within the climate negotiations. However, there is some reason to align it with the processes of adaptation planning in order to really move the discussion to the field of implementation.

This brings us to core questions on how to design an institutional framework and what partners to involve? The current discussions of and with the Executive Committee are devoted to the mandate, scope of activity and the development of a work plan, among others. The history of climate negotiations is not poor in examples when it comes to institutional innovations, including task forces, which can guide the more formal administrative questions. Moreover, it will be important to involve the right partners within and beyond the UNFCCC family. If the climate regime wants to offer meaningful and sustainable responses to the climate-displacement nexus, close collaboration with those institutions reaching out to the implementation level by offering guidance and financial support is imperative. In this regard, the Adaptation Committee and the Least Developed Countries Expert Group have been important players in the past. The activities of the Green Climate Fund, also directed towards resilience building and transformative change, can be a game changer as well. One of the key questions in this context will be how the design of a climate change related programme or project needs to be adjusted to appropriately address the displacement challenge(s). Most likely, specific guidance needs to be developed to inform programming and planning processes such as the National Adaptation Plan process (NAPs).

In addition, there are quite a number of institutions and initiatives that can offer meaningful advice to ensure an integrated approach. Apart from the more obvious UN and inter-governmental organizations such as the UNHCR and the International Organisation for Migration, knowledge hubs have already been established, such as the Global Knowledge Partnership on Migration and Development (KNOMAD) or the Environmental Migration Portal. An important bridge to regional experience can also be offered by the follow up process of the Nansen Initiative. Though the initiative put a stronger focus on displacement caused by disasters than by climate change in 2014 and 2015, the idea to develop a “protection agenda” based on numerous consultation rounds at a regional and global level created an inclusive process that is awaiting the next steps. The Task Force likely to be established in the second half of 2016 can benefit from these already existing approaches but also needs to prove how activities at the programme or project level can help avoiding or managing displacement trends.

Dennis Tänzler is Director of International Climate Policy at adelphi and one of the lead authors of A New Climate for Peace. His research focuses on climate and energy policies as well as on peace and conflict studies.


Photo: Somali refugee fleeing drought and famine in a UNHCR camp | Photo credits: United Nations Photo/ [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]