IOM Perspectives on Climate Change and Migration

By Mariam Traore Chazalnoel, Thematic Specialist - Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division (IOM Focal Point for UNFCCC) and Dina Ionesco, Head - Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division (Member of the Task Force on Displacement)

Photo: Jon Knes, the 'floating village', in Cambodia © IOM 2016 / Muse Mohammed

10 Key Takeaways from the COP24 Recommendations on Integrated Approaches to Address Displacement and Climate Change

An important step forward in the ongoing development of the global governance of climate migration[1] took place at the latest Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP24 – UNFCCC), in Katowice, Poland, December 2018. States Parties to the UNFCCC adopted in COP Decision 10/CP.24 the Recommendations from the report of the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage Associated with Climate Change Impacts on integrated approaches to averting, minimizing and addressing displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change.

The last few years have seen an intensification of the global awareness of climate migration challenges. This topic was at the core of the negotiations towards the adoption of the first United Nations (UN) global agreement on international migration – the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM).

In parallel, the UNFCCC, through the work of the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism (Excom/WIM), was engaged in an intensive programme of work pertaining to climate change and migration. Both the migration track and the climate change track reached important milestones in December 2018, when the GCM and the Task Force on Displacement recommendations were adopted within days of one another – with each document referring to the need for synergies between both processes.

What is the Task Force on Displacement?

The creation of the Task Force on Displacement was mandated by the 2015 Paris Climate Change Agreement in Decision 1/CP.21, paragraph 49, as part of the work programme of the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage. Human mobility related to the adverse impacts of climate change, including displacement, migration and planned relocation, is one of the four work strands of the Excom, alongside slow onset events, non-economic losses and comprehensive risk management approaches.

The Task Force brings together 13 members representing states, the UN system (including the International Organization for Migration – IOM), civil society and other entities under the UNFCCC. The Task Force started implementing its two-year programme of work in 2016 with a clear but complex goal: develop a set of comprehensive recommendations to avert, minimize and address displacement linked to climate change impacts.

An important breakthrough was reached in July 2016, with the organization of the first global expert meeting under the UNFCCC dedicated to climate migration. This was followed by another global gathering of stakeholders in May 2018. The Task Force finalized its work in October 2018, drawing upon the insights gained during the two-year collaborative process, when it submitted its recommendations to the Excom. The Task Force has been mandated by COP24 to continue its work, and discussions on the way forward will be forthcoming.

Task Force on Displacement Members © IOM 2018 - Natalie Oren

Photo: Task Force on Displacement Members © IOM 2018 / Natalie Oren

The Recommendations at COP24

On the basis of the Task Force’s work, the Excom developed the “Recommendations from the report of the Excom/WIM on integrated approaches to averting, minimizing and addressing displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change” that were presented at COP24 to all UNFCCC Parties. These recommendations were adopted by the Parties in decision 10/CP.24.

The recommendations are thus part of a wider COP Decision adopting the “Report of the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts” and they should be analyzed in this wider context. In particular, it is important to note that the text of the Decision makes reference to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report on Global Warming of 1.5 °C, calls for the consideration of scientific information and for more attention to be dedicated to groups vulnerable to the adverse impacts of climate change.

Ten Key Takeaways from the Recommendations

  1. The recommendations address all forms of human mobility linked to climate change.

The recommendations go beyond the notion of displacement and cover the whole spectrum of human mobility: voluntary migration, displacement and planned relocation (paragraph (c)). This encompassing approach highlights the fact that different types of migration can occur - sometimes concurrently - in the context of climate change and it can be difficult to neatly classify movements in clear categories. Any solutions to these challenges need to look at human mobility as a whole and the recommendations offer solutions that are applicable to a broad range of circumstances.

  1. Countries should integrate climate change and migration concerns when formulating laws, policies and strategies based on evidence.

One of the most critical proposals is the call to Parties to support the efforts of developing countries in formulating laws, policies and strategies that would address climate change, migration and displacement challenges, in accordance with their human rights obligations and existing standards (1.g.(i)). This paragraph therefore opens the door to the development of more and better targeted national tools that would intentionally and specifically address the broad spectrum of issues associated with both forced and voluntary migration occurring in the context of climate change. Some countries have already developed specialized legislation and policies, but such efforts remain relatively scarce. The recommendations devote a full paragraph (2.g (ii)) to the need to enhance research, data collection and information sharing efforts.

  1. Climate change and disaster national policies and tools are relevant instruments to address climate migration concerns.

The recommendations reference the relevance of climate action tools and policy instruments when addressing mobility challenges, including climate change risk assessments (1.d), national adaptation plans (1.e), early warning systems, contingency planning, evacuation planning, resilience-building strategies and forecast-based financing (1.g.(iii)). This acknowledgement encourages for instance the possibility to integrate innovative climate action tools in the management of human mobility and reinforces the need to include migration concerns in national climate change policies.

  1. Global climate policy needs to be connected to global migration policy.

The recommendations explicitly state the need to connect the work undertaken under the UNFCCC to the activities of the Global Compact for Migration, the international migration review forum and the UN Network on Migration (1.j). For many years, the migration community and the climate change community were considering climate change and migration issues in silos, along separate tracks. The last few years have seen an increase in understanding the need to create bridges between policymakers of both areas. The process of developing the recommendations brought together practitioners from a wide array of policy areas and the resulting recommendations take note of the need for better and more mutual collaboration.

  1. The facilitation of regular international migration pathways should be considered in the context of climate change.

The recommendations invite parties to facilitate “orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration” ( and enhance opportunities for regular migration pathways in the context of climate change. This provision directly refers to Target 10.7 of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) to “facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies”. It also echoes the Global Compact for Migration’s paragraph (5.h), which states the need for States to cooperate to identify and develop visa options and planned relocation measures in cases where adaptation to climate impacts is no longer possible in countries of origin. These recommendations are possibly the most forward-looking of the overall text as they acknowledge that in some cases, it will not be possible for people to remain where they are, and that managed migration might be the only way to respond to some of the gravest climate change impacts in the future.

  1. The issue of internal displacement due to the adverse impacts of climate change is clearly acknowledged.

The recommendations recall the guiding principles on internal displacement (1.g.v) and invite the UN Secretary-General to include questions of mobility linked to climate change in the envisaged high-level panel on internally displaced persons (1.k). This is in line with the fact that the majority of movements linked to climate change impacts takes place within borders and the need to consider solutions centered on these internal movements.

  1. The adverse impacts of climate change on human mobility can only be addressed through a collaborative approach, including affected communities and individuals.

The recommendations are divided into several paragraphs that target different groups of stakeholders: entities under the UNFCCC, States Parties to UNFCCC, UN agencies, organizations and other stakeholders whose mandate is of relevance, and the UN Secretary General. This is an acknowledgement of the fact that climate change and migration is a multi-causal phenomenon, whose management necessarily involves the expertise of a wide range of state and non-states stakeholders. The recommendations also emphasize the need to take into consideration the needs of communities of origin, destination and transit countries (2.g.(vi)) and call in four different paragraphs for the inclusion and participation of individuals and communities affected by and/or at risk of displacement.

  1. The UNFCCC needs to continue and step up its efforts to address climate change and migration challenges, through a cross cutting approach.

The recommendations reaffirm the relevance of the UNFCCC to work on migration issues. They should be read in light of the Excom’s decision to extend the mandate of the Task Force on Displacement and to continue considering migration issues under its five-year rolling workplan. Going further, the recommendations also call for the involvement of all relevant bodies under the Convention and the Paris Agreement (1.c, d), highlighting the need for better coordination, coherence and collaboration in order to improve understanding of migration issues under the Convention and support countries to develop national level tools such as climate change risk assessments and data collection tools. In particular, the Adaptation Committee and the Least Developed Countries Expert Group (1.e) are called upon to support the efforts of countries to develop strategies to address these challenges. The recommendations anchor issues of human mobility in the long-term work of the Convention, acknowledging the importance of this thematic area.

  1. The United Nations system is strongly called upon to respond to climate change and mobility challenges.

Several recommendations are directly addressed to the UN system (1.h.(i) to 1.h.(k)), encouraging the UN to support efforts of Parties and other actors, enhance cooperation, and develop and share good practices to address climate migration challenges. The UN system is also called upon to collaborate with the Excom/WIM as well as other relevant bodies under the UNFCCC, and the UN Secretary-General is invited to develop a system-wide strategic review for greater coherence. In that respect, one important way to support both States and the bodies under the UNFCCC relates to capacity-building efforts - such as the capacity-building work programme of the IOM - to better understand current and future issues and develop appropriate responses.

  1. The recommendations do not elaborate on gender and human rights issues.  

The recommendations make reference to questions of human rights only in one paragraph (1.g.i), when they acknowledge the need for States to take into consideration their respective human rights obligations when formulating laws, policies and strategies. The Paris Agreement employed a similar formulation, outlining in its preamble the need to protect the human rights of migrants when taking action on climate change. Three years post Paris, the scarcity of explicit connections between human rights and human mobility in the adopted recommendations outlines the need to think in more depth of these linkages and the protection gaps, in line with the work undertaken under the Human Rights Council. Whilst it is generally acknowledged that the impacts of climate change on migration affect women and men differently - a dimension that needs to be included in policy development, - there are no direct references to gender in the adopted text. However, the Excom continues to develop its work on gender-sensitive risk management approaches in other strands of work. It is also important to note that the Task Force has acknowledged the need to include both human rights and gender dimensions in its mappings.

What Next?

The recommendations recognize in paragraphs 2.g. (iv) and 2.j that human mobility in the context of climate change offers not only challenges but also opportunities. This gives us hope that the potential positive outcomes of human mobility on climate change action and sustainable development can be acknowledged and enhanced and that migrants and diasporas can be seen as relevant actors to actively engage in the fight against climate change.

The recommendations might appear modest in terms of calling for access to finance mechanisms to respond to migration in the context of the adverse impacts of climate change. The recommendations make reference twice to greater access “to finance, technology and capacity building” in order to step up the efforts to avert, minimize and address displacement. These references should be understood in the broader context of the work of the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage and its work stream specifically dealing with finance issues (work stream (e)). As an immediate follow-up to the Task Force recommendations, the Excom has launched a call for information on existing sources of financial support for planning and implementing integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change.

The adoption of the recommendations of the Task Force on Displacement, as put forward by the Excom/WIM, comes at the end of a two-year long collaborative process. This adoption represents an important milestone in the global governance of migration and climate change as it reflects the political will of many States to address a challenge that has repercussions in all regions of the world and in a long-term perspective.

Many challenges lie ahead, including how to translate these recommendations into activities that directly support States and migrants. Operationalizing the recommendations will be one of the areas of focus of IOM’s programme of work on climate change and migration, building on its 25 years of expertise on the topic.

Further Readings

Climate Change and Migration at UNFCCC COP24

10 Key Takeaways from the GCM on Environmental Migration


[1] In this article, the term “climate migration” is used to encompass both voluntary and forced forms of human mobility, in accordance with IOM definition.