Climate displacement is our reality. In 2020, weather-related events such as storms and floods were responsible for 98% of all disaster displacement. Cyclone Amphan alone triggered around five million displacements across Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Myanmar.
Yet this is just an indication of what is to come if we do not act with far greater speed and ambition to combat the climate crisis. Increasingly, experts are predicting mass, permanent displacement as a direct result of the changes human activity has inflicted on our atmosphere, oceans and land.
Urgent adaptation action, and commitment to action, is needed to help the most vulnerable communities increase their resilience at home, and on the move. There is a clear opportunity on the table at COP26 to mainstream climate adaptation considerations across an array of policy spheres.
Climate displacement is a result of cascading environmental, economic, social, security and political threats. Put simply, people are forced to move because their environment can no longer support life with dignity. Adaptive action, therefore, can be as diverse and multifaceted as the factors acting in sum to fuel displacement.
It is no longer enough for climate adaptation considerations to be limited to climate-resilient infrastructure and sustainable environmental management. Climate adaptation strategies must become part and parcel of resilient development safeguarding the livelihoods, social capital and human rights of vulnerable communities. Increased financing for adaptation in-situ, diversification of local livelihoods, investment in early warning systems, accountability for rural development and risk response, and sustainable management of environmental resources all have the potential to empower vulnerable communities to protect against, prepare for and in many cases support human mobility in the face of a changing climate. The absence of any one of these factors may be enough to trigger displacement in the face of climate insecurity.
It is critical COP26 succeeds in mainstreaming climate adaptation, utilizing entry points for adaptive action across an array of long-established international law and policy to create a transformative difference for the lives and hopes of millions of people across the globe – ultimately shaping the intentions of people to move from, or remain in, any given location.
Where displacement and migration driven by climate change is unavoidable, international support to assist and protect displaced persons is urgently needed. Not all displacement can be prevented, our actions yesterday have locked the globe into a degree of change regardless of the mitigation efforts initiated today and tomorrow. However, if well managed, shifts in population distribution can become effective adaptation strategies, allowing people to rise out of poverty and build resilient livelihoods. Human mobility policies – such as seasonal migration, labour migration, planned relocation and humanitarian visas options – can reduce exposure, build resilience and strengthen the adaptive capacity of countries and communities.
Facilitating movement, protecting those on the move and supporting migration with dignity is a form of positive adaptation. There is a clear opportunity on the table at COP26 to set the agenda for well-managed and rights-based adaptation policies – embedding climate migration in far-sighted green, resilience and inclusive adaptive strategies.
Climate Researcher & Analyst, Act for Displaced
Sophie is a researcher on the nexus between climate change, human rights and displacement. She holds a Masters in Disaster Management and has worked in research and policy for NGOs, UN Agencies and government in the fields of disaster displacement, climate justice, disaster risk reduction and climate change action