Understanding and addressing the drivers of migration: focus on the adverse effects of climate change and natural disasters in the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration

Dina Ionesco, Mariam Traore Chazalnoël and Daria Mokhnacheva (IOM MECC Division)

The global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration represents a strategic and significant opportunity for the international community to progress in terms of international migration governance and offers a timely opportunity to account for environmental, natural disaster and climatic dimensions in contemporary migration policy and practice. The New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted in September 2016 already formally recognizes climate, environmental and natural disasters as migration drivers[1], as well as the multiple impacts of migration on environment.

An informal thematic session, organized as part of the consultation process of the negotiations of the global compact on migration (New York, 22-23 May 2017), will be specifically devoted to “Addressing drivers of migration, including adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters and human-made crises, through protection and assistance, sustainable development, poverty eradication, conflict prevention and resolution”. (Modalities Resolution 15. (b).(ii)) 017 in New York).  This session offers a unique opportunity to exchange knowledge and practices on how migration is affected by climate change, environmental degradation and natural disasters and what solutions can be put forward to reduce the human and financial costs of forced migration linked to environmental factors.

Indeed, environmental factors, including those related to climate change and natural disasters, can directly and indirectly lead to different forms of migration that can each have diverse impacts on the resilience and vulnerability of individuals, households and communities. Both slow-onset climate and environmental change effects and natural disasters are drivers of migration. People might migrate when confronted to extreme temperatures, desertification or sea-level rise as  the sustainability of local livelihoods, especially those linked to agriculture, farming and fishery is greatly undermined. In addition, adverse impacts of climate change can negatively affect food security, access to water and the health of people. For example, if global temperature rise reaches 1.5°C by the end of the century, 30 to 60 million people are projected to live in areas where the average temperature will most likely be too high for a human body to cope physiologically[2].

On the other hand, it is already known that millions of people each year are displaced by natural  disasters such as floods, storms or droughts within their own countries –19.2 million persons in 2015 according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. For instance, El Niño-driven drought in the Horn of Africa resulted in increased displacement of people in 2015 and 2016[3].

Given the multi-causality of migration patterns, it is often difficult to isolate environmental factors from other drivers and to prove a direct causal link between environmental conditions and the migration of people. Yet, evidence documenting the links between environmental degradation, climate change and disasters on the one hand, and migration on the other, has considerably improved over the last few decades, and points to the necessity to address the challenges arising in that context.

Migration associated with environmental drivers is too often presented negatively, while it can in fact directly contribute to adaptation to the adverse effects of climate change and environmental degradation[4] and support efforts to achieve sustainable development targets. Human mobility strategies can help to save lives and reduce exposure to environmental risk as people move out of areas prone to disasters and environmental degradation. Facilitated migration can also support individuals and communities to secure better livelihoods whilst contributing to lifting pressures on overstretched ecosystems and filling labor shortages in destination areas. Finally, migrants and diaspora networks can effectively support local development, disaster recovery and risk reduction as well as climate change adaptation in both countries of origin and destination through financial support, investments in the “green” sector, and skills and knowledge transfer[5]


[1] An analysis of how climate and environment elements are addressed in the New York Declaration is available from http://www.environmentalmigration.iom.int/un-summit-refugees-and-migrants

[2] IOM (2017) Extreme Heat and Migration - The Impacts of Threats to Habitability from Increasing and Extreme Heat Exposure due to Climate Change on Migration Movements (forthcoming)

[3] IOM, (2016) Internal Displacement Monitoring Report, January – March 2016: is this the correct link? http://www.globaldtm.info/category/east-africa/somalia/

[4] Susanne Melde, Frank Laczko, François Gemenne, Making Mobility Work for Adaption to environmental changes - IOM (2017) https://publications.iom.int/system/files/pdf/meclep_comparative_report.pdf

[5] Warner, K. et all  (2012), Global Policy Report of Where the Rain Falls Project. Bonn, Care France, UNU; UNESCAP and ILO (2016); http://www.unescap.org/subregional-office/pacific/pacific-climate-change...