Today is human rights day at COP21. “Human Mobility and Climate Change” was a timely event that shined a light on climate-induced migration.
Climate change drives human mobility, and is projected to further increase the displacement of populations. While migration is generally a voluntary movement, human mobility displacement occurs in situations where people are forced to leave their homes. COP21 gives policy-makers an opportunity to mitigate the displacement of populations that lack the resources to address extreme weather events.
Past UNFCCC processes have recognized the significance of human mobility; the first reference of population displacement emerged in Cancun. It made another appearance in paragraph 7 of the 2012 Doha decision. Nicolas Hulot—Special Envoy of the President of the French Republic for Protecting the Planet—is pleased that the draft texts that have been submitted for agreement in Paris thus far mention migrants in paragraph 10:
Emphasizing the importance of Parties promoting, protecting and respecting all human rights, the right to health, and the rights of indigenous peoples, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and under occupation, and the right to development, in accordance with their obligations…
The panelists said they now feel justified in their outspokenness regarding climate migrations. Still, most yearn for better research and increased capacity-building.
Jan Egeland of the Norwegian Refugee Council reported that 11 million people were displaced last year from conflict and violence. In 2014, one person was displaced every two seconds. However, social and political conflict are not the only instigators of mass displacement. Few realize that the number of people displaced by natural disasters since 2008 is 22.5 million. Climate change has plagued societies with food scarcity and water resource issues. The Pacific Islands have had two Category 5 typhoons just this year. South Africa is dealing with threatened food security. Countless other countries are heavily affected by droughts.
Egeland encourages States to recognize this “mega-problem” in a legally binding document, and agree that displaced persons have (1) the right to receive assistance if they are forced to flee, and (2) the right to rebuild, live, and integrate elsewhere if they cannot return. “We are way behind in protection and assistance to this group” of which Egeland says “we haven’t even recognized the size.”
UNHCR’s Assistant High Commissioner for Protection, Volker Turk, argues that protection must be central to the international response to human mobility. Assistant Secretary-General Kyung-wha Kang agrees. She urges policy-makers to mitigate consequences, and to ensure that displaced people are protected and their rights preserved. She says we need to integrate displaced people and support migration and relocation as part of climate control adaptation. Kang calls for a shift from crisis response to crisis risk management.
Kang pointed out that only one percent of international aid went to disaster risk reduction between 1991 and 2010. World leaders need to manage the risks that “we already know.”
Seb Dance is a member of the Committee on the Environment, Public Heath, and Food Safety. He predicts that COP21 is going to be the most successful COP thus far. However, he fears that existing policies are outdated and might undermine commitments made in the Paris Agreement. He warns from repeating the “same mistakes we’ve been making for decades.”
The climate crisis has become the “ultimate injustice;” climate change affects mostly individuals who played no part in creating it. Hulot believes humanity can be recovered as the “major feeling that brings people together.” Regardless of the content of the Paris Outcome, he says, this is only the beginning.