Human mobility in the context of climate change has gained space in international agendas on sustainable development and climate change. The formulation of the National Adaptation Plans of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) member countries following COP 16 represents an opportunity to consider internal climate migration from a human rights perspective.
Climate migration is a reality all over the world. As the global average temperature increases to 1.5°C, there will be an increase in incidents of internal migration and displacement. The challenge is much greater for the most vulnerable countries: Least Developed Countries (LDCs), Landlocked Developing Countries (LLDCs) and Small Island Developing States (SIDS). According to a study by the World Bank, it is projected that by 2050, in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America alone, around 143 million people could be forced to move within their own countries to escape the impacts of climate change.
Under the 2010 Cancun Adaptation Framework, the Parties to the UNFCCC assumed the commitment to intensify their work identifying and implementing strategies of adaptation to climate change, among others things; this involves taking measures to improve understanding, coordination, and cooperation regarding displacement, migration, and planned relocation as a consequence of climate change. In addition, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030 addresses the displacement caused – or not – by climate disasters, as well as the contribution of migrants to resilience at their destination. However, the official recognition of climate-induced migration and displacement is still in its early stages within international agreements on climate change.
Human mobility related to climate risks can occur in response to different types of risks and in different ways: forced displacement, voluntary migration, organized relocation, within a country or across borders, individually, or as a community. For its part, the International Organization for Migration maintains a sustainable development perspective, which allows needs to be met and vulnerabilities of populations exposed to environmental factors to be reduced, through disaster risk reduction and adaptation measures to climate change.
One of the initiatives in the field that has most gained momentum at an international level is the understanding of migration as part of the adaptation strategy that can be promoted through planned relocation and resettlement, or through temporary migration. However, it is increasingly evident that the ability to migrate – beyond a human right – is a function of mobility and resources (both financial and social); that is, the people most vulnerable to climate change are not necessarily the most likely to migrate.
It is important to understand the context that motivates the displacement of people due to reasons associated with climate change. However, going further than the risk-focused approach, the challenge of the international agenda and regulatory frameworks at an international level lies in addressing an approach that focuses on the human rights of migrants – the movement itself and the destination. Furthermore, it should focus on those who, for economic, social, or cultural reasons, are forced to stay in the affected or most at-risk areas.
To date, only a few countries have finished formulating their National Adaptation Policy (NAP). In the case of Mexico, the government is in charge of initiating a participative construction process with regional actors. For their part, other countries are still defining their strategy to comply with the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), either by increasing the ambition of their goals or by updating national commitments. This represents an opportunity for these countries to consider climate risk and the challenges and opportunities of migration in national development planning, from a human rights and people-centered approach.