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Migration Woes

January 9, 2016

“We are living in an era of forced mobility.”

– William Lacy Swing, Director-General of the International Organization for Migration


As Yilin rightly pointed out in a previous post, migration, or “human mobility”, has become the new buzzword in climate change negotiations. More people, in particular in developing regions of the world, are getting displaced by the day due to climate-induced changes such as droughts and conflicts. There is an urgent need for better research, data and capacity building to address issues related to human migration in the coming years.

I attended a side event in Paris that consisted of two consecutive panels, each with 5 high-profile speakers who discussed the drivers of the problem, its impacts, and the measures urgently needed to address it. But exactly how serious is the issue?

Consider Bangladesh. According to the 5th Assessment Report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the country has been losing 6% of its Gross Domestic Product per annum due to storms alone, while a one-meter rise in sea level would likely result in the covering of 1/6 of its total land mass. Worldwide, up to 2.5 billion people will be living in areas subjected to intense drought by 2025. These all mean serious business that would have consequences beyond the national level; the displaced will find their way elsewhere, as the current case of the conflict in Syria has already shown.


People displaced from their homes after a storm in Bangladesh. (Source:


On this basis, United Nations Assistant High Commissioner for Refugees Volker Türk emphasized that global environmental challenges have become “breeding grounds” for social tensions. The issues also tend to be highly politicized amidst calls for compassion in dealing with any refugees.

What is needed? The experts are optimistic that we can increase opportunities for land-based investments to develop resilient communities. According to Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs in the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) Kang Kyung-Wha, this means investing in education of the people to increase capacity and to empower the most vulnerable to more effectively respond to crises. This also means shifting towards crisis risk management away from crisis response, to focus on minimizing the unforeseeable risks by preparing well ahead and to manage risks already known to us. Thus development planning has to ensure that all possible scenarios are considered, and to ensure that people have the means to obtain assistance to avoid displacement.

Overall, the issue on climate migration is complicated and multi-faceted. For one, a direct causation between climate change and the migration of people is difficult to establish. Many factors ultimately determine an individual’s movement beyond his or her homeland. This is nonetheless an emerging research field to explore in further detail at future COPs.

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