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Mapping environmentally driven migration

5 August 20190 comments

The effects climate change and extreme weather events are having in degrading traditional landscapes and the livelihoods of entire communities has been mapped for the first time to study the impact these factors have on human migration and population displacement.

The Atlas of Environmental Migration is the first illustrated publication mapping these complex phenomena while drawing a picture of migration related to environment and climate change.

One of the Atlas’ authors Dina Ionesco says we are now in an era where catastrophic climate-related events are linked to human activity, and this is likely to have a major impact on the way humans decide to migrate and where they re-settle.

Head of the Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division at the UN International Organisation for Migration (IOM), Ms Ionesco says the Atlas gives examples dating as far back as 45,000 years ago that show how environmental changes and natural disasters have played a role in the way population is distributed on the planet through history.

“However, it is highly likely that undesirable environmental changes directly created by, or amplified by, climate change, will extensively change the patterns of human settlement,” she said.

“Future degradation of land used for agriculture and farming, the disruption of fragile ecosystems and the depletion of precious natural resources like fresh water will directly impact people’s lives and homes,” Ms Ionesco said.

The Atlas shows the climate crisis is already having an effect: according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, 17.2 million people had to leave their homes last year, because of disasters that negatively affected their lives. Slow changes in the environment, such as ocean acidification, desertification and coastal erosion, are also directly impacting people’s livelihoods and their capacity to survive in their places of origin.

Ms Ionesco says there is a strong possibility that more people will migrate in search of better opportunities, as living conditions get worse in their places of origin.

“There are predictions for the twenty-first century indicating that even more people will have to move as a result of these adverse climate impacts. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the main UN authority on climate science, has repeatedly said that the changes brought on by the climate crisis will influence migration patterns,” she said.

“The World Bank has put forward projections for internal climate migration amounting to 143 million people by 2050 in three regions of the world, if no climate action is taken.

“However, our level of awareness and understanding of how environmental factors affect migration, and how they also interact with other migration drivers such as demographic, political and economic conditions, has also changed. With enhanced knowledge, there is more incentive to act urgently, be prepared and respond,” Ms Ionesco said.

Many states have signed up to landmark agreements, such as the Paris Climate Change Agreement, the Sendai Framework for Disaster Reduction and the global compacts for migration and refugees which show clear way forward for governments to address the issue of climate and migration.

“But where climate change impacts are too intense, another priority put forward in the Compact is to ‘enhance availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration’,” Ms Ionesco said.

“States are thus looking at solutions for people to be able to migrate safely and through regular channels, and at solutions for those already on the move,” she said.

“A last resort measure is to conduct planned relocations of population – this means organizing the relocation of entire villages and communities away from areas bearing the brunt of climate change impacts.”

“Humanitarian assistance and protection for those on the move already, are also tools states can use. Finally, states highlight that relevant data and knowledge are key to guide the decision-making process. Without knowing more and analysing better, policies run the risk of missing their targets and fade into irrelevance,” Ms Ionesco said.

She said solutions could range from tweaking migration practices, such as visa regimes, to developing human rights-based protection measures. Most importantly, they involve a coordinated approach from national governments, bringing together experts from different walks of life.

“There is no one single solution to respond to the challenge of environmental migration, but there are many solutions that tackle different aspects of this complex equation. Nothing meaningful can ever be achieved without the strong involvement of civil society actors and the communities themselves who very often know what is best for them and their ways of life,” Ms Ionesco said.

“I also think that we need to stop discourses that focus only on migrants as victims of tragedy. The bigger picture is certainly bleak at times, but we need to remember that migrants demonstrate everyday their resilience and capacity to survive and thrive in difficult situations,” she said.