Environmental Migrants and Global Governance: Facts, Policies and Practices

Walter Kälin and Sanjula Weerasinghe
International Organization for Migration (IOM)
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Human mobility linked to environmental factors such as sudden- or slow-onset disasters is a reality. Although the global governance of environmental mobility is fragmented, many of the principles and elements to improve it are, at least implicitly, enshrined in hard and soft-law agreements, policies, agendas and action plans adopted by the international community. The Global Compact on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) provides an indispensable opportunity to bring these principles and elements together into a State‑led, global-level, normative framework. This can provide States and the international community with a clearer understanding of obligations, policy options and actions necessary at different levels of governance.

To protect persons moving in the context of disasters and environmental changes, including adverse impacts of climate change, and improve responses to environmental mobility, the GCM must be underpinned by a recognition that such mobility takes different forms ranging from (predominantly) voluntary migration to (predominantly) forced displacement. Regardless of the form, environmental mobility is multi-causal, and the significance of the environment as a driver of human movement is context dependent. Most environmental mobility will be within countries although there is also evidence of cross-border movements. Continuing changes in the climate is expected to increase displacement.

This knowledge presents States and other actors with a series of policy options. Efforts to prevent,  minimize and address displacement can encompass: (1) action to reduce vulnerability and strengthen resilience of at risk populations; (2) action to facilitate movement away from harm; and (3) action to protect displaced persons within their country or across borders.