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Environment and migration increasingly connected, conference told

16 June 20160 comments

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) has called on nations to integrate their migration and environmental policies as climate change becomes a major driver of the mass movement of people.

IOM Director General, William Lacy Swing urged leaders to integrate environmental and migration policies to minimise forced migration and build up the resilience of affected communities.

His call came at the United Nations Environment Assembly (UNEA) in Kenya heard this week, which heard that environmental degradation and climate change were already moving millions of people from their homes every year and that this trend would intensify without a collective response from the international community.

UNEA is a result of a decision taken by world leaders at the Rio Conference in Brazil in 2012 which pledged to strengthen and upgrade the UN Environment Program (UNEP) as the leading global environmental authority that sets the global environmental agenda.

In Nairboi this week Mr Swing underlined the need for better understanding of the complex linkages between migration, displacement, the environment and climate change.

“We need to address the root causes of displacement due to environmental factors, and to minimize the negative impacts on affected communities and the environment, through increased collaboration between environmental and humanitarian policy makers,” he said.

“Migration is inevitable, necessary and desirable, if well-governed. It is therefore imperative that we respond in a coherent and comprehensive way to meet the challenges posed by current crises in order to make human mobility a positive, informed and safe option for resilience and adaptation that benefits all,” Mr Swing said.

The conference is aimed at exploring how to best address climate change challenges and how to manage the environment for the benefit of all humanity.

Planned and dignified migration can be part of the solution and there is a growing body of evidence that migrants and diasporas can contribute to climate change adaptation and poverty reduction, the conference heard.

The UN’s 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development takes an approach based on one simple principle: everything is connected.

This is the first time that the whole world is applying this notion to the future of people and our planet—bringing goals ranging from ending poverty to achieving peaceful societies to protecting life on land and in the ocean under one umbrella.

Delegates at the conference are meeting hoping to take decisions related to the environmental dimension of sustainable development – touching on everything from air pollution to how to value natural resources.

Every issue under discussion has impacts far beyond the environment: human health, livelihoods, sustainable economic growth and the future of the diverse species living on our planet.

Issues in play include: how can climate action under the Paris Agreement and 2030 Agenda be turned into an economic opportunity?; how we can protect human health in the face of ever-growing industrialisation and chemical reliance?; and, how we can ensure natural capital is preserved and valued to provide livelihoods and support vulnerable communities?

The debate aims to capture global voices on how the environment can deliver on the Sustainable Development Goals, providing an opportunity for unrestricted, although moderated, debate among civil society stakeholders.


Laurie Nowell
AMES Australia Senior Journalist