Human Mobility in the UNFCCC


As the leading intergovernmental migration agency, The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has been at the forefront of operational, research, policy and advocacy efforts seeking to bring environmental migration to the heart of national, regional, and international concerns. Working in close collaboration with its Member States, observers and partners, IOM’s work on Migration, Environment and Climate Change (MECC) has greatly expanded in the past five years. To deepen IOM’s engagement with this thematic area, the “Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division” (MECC) was created within the organization. The MECC Division is a dedicated institutional structure tasked with leading IOM’s work on migration, environment and climate change. For more information, please see IOM and Migration, Environment and Climate Change and IOM Publications.

The United Nations Framework Convention for Climate Change (UNFCCC) first recognized the growing importance of human mobility with the adaptation of the 2010 Cancun Adaptation Framework. When the 2015 Paris Agreement was adopted during the twenty-first Conference of Parties in Paris (COP21), climate migrants were finally rendered visible within the wider international policy arena. IOM has been actively engaged in the UNFCCC process since COP14 in Poznan in 2008, advocating for the recognition of migration and displacement dimensions in policy discussions on climate change. Over the years, IOM has made over forty official submissions to the UNFCCC and has organized and contributed to side events and press conferences at each Conference of the Parties. IOM also provides technical advice to negotiators, COP presidencies, and the Secretariat of the UNFCCC. Collaboration with other intergovernmental and civil society stakeholders has been key for IOM throughout these efforts.

In 2016, IOM organized the first technical meeting with the UNFCCC Executive Committee (ExCom) of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) in Casablanca, Morocco. The meeting’s focus was loss and damage pertaining to migration, displacement and human mobility in the context of climate change. In 2017, IOM joined the Task Force on Displacement established under the WIM ExCom. Within this capacity, IOM is leading several Task Force activities relating to policy, praxis, and research. In May 2018, together with PDD and on behalf of the WIM ExCom, IOM organized the Task Force on Displacement Stakeholder Meeting, “Recommendations for integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change.” For more information on IOM’s engagement with UNFCCC, please see "UNFCCC Submissions."

The IOM International Migration Law Glossary on Migration defines climate migration as:

The movement of a person or groups of persons who, predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment due to climate change, are obliged to leave their habitual place of residence, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, within a State or across an international border.

Source: Warsaw International Mechanism, Executive Committee, Action Area 6: Migration, Displacement and Human Mobility - Submission from the International Organization for Migration (IOM, 2016); M. Traore Chazalnoël and D. Ionesco, Defining Climate Migrants – Beyond Semantics (IOM weblog, 6 June 2016) (last accessed 23 May 2018).

Note: This is a working definition of the International Organization for Migration with an analytic and advocacy purpose which does not have any specific legal value. Climate migration is a subcategory of environmental migration; it defines a singular type of environmental migration, where the change in the environment is due to climate change. Migration in this context can be associated with greater vulnerability of affected people, particularly if it is forced. Yet, migration can also be a form of adaptation to environmental stressors, helping to build resilience of affected individuals and communities.


Key Messages on Migration and Climate Change

Climate change is a cause of human mobility

Human mobility is an adaptation strategy to climate change Climate change policy should consider human mobility
  • Environmental and climatic factors are both drivers and pull factors of migration, and are influenced by economic, social, political and demographic aspects. All these different dimensions together define a community and an individual’s resilience and vulnerability.
  • Mobility strategies of migrants are not inherently “positive” or “negative”. Mobility can save lives, enhance resilience and reduce risk – and it can also make people vulnerable and expose them to new risks.
  • Talking of migration in the context of climate change means giving a human face to the climate change debate. More emphasis needs to be placed on the migrants themselves, their families and the communities, on understanding their strategies, the challenges they face, and mobility options that are available to them.
  • Individuals and communities use migration to adapt to changing environmental conditions. In some contexts, migration can constitute an important and positive adaptation strategy that can be supported by policy action. Human mobility matters should be factored in the National Adaptation Plans and in adaptation strategies.
  • The contributions of migrants and diasporas for instance through remittances, knowledge transfers and investments can serve adaptation purposes. The role of migration as an adaptation strategy to climate change can be facilitated.
  • UNFCCC process should continue to include human mobility questions in its negotiations. Following major advances in Cancun in 2010 (decision 1.CP/16 paragraph 14 (f)) and in Doha in 2012 (decision on loss and damage 3.CP/18 paragraph 7 (a) (vi)), negotiations under the UNFCCC should continue to factor in and progress on the question of human mobility in relation to climate change.
  • Policymakers need to be empowered at the national, local, or regional and international levels to be able to address the complex nexus of migration, environment and climate. Climate and migration require common policy responses.

Relevant IOM Publications

IOM Outlook on Migration, Environment and Climate Change Migration in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) 22nd Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) 21st Conference of Parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC)

Joint Publications with IOM Partners

Human Mobility in the Context of Climate Change UNFCCC-Paris COP-21

Human Mobility in the Context of Climate Change: Elements for the UNFCCC Paris Agreement Integrating Human Mobility Issues Within National Adaptation Plans


Climate Migration in the News

COP21 Paris Agreement: A Stepping Stone for Climate Migrants 

The gathering storm of climate migration

Don’t forget migration while making policies on climate change

'Climate Migrants' recognized in Paris draft agreement

Paris Accord Considers Climate Change as a Factor in Mass Migration

Urgent Action Needed to Tackle Environmental Migration

Don't let the Paris climate talks ignore people displaced by global warming

Promoting human security and minimizing conflict associated with forced migration in the Pacific region

Facing the reality of mass migrations in Asia-Pacific 

World cannot ignore the masses made homeless by disasters amid a warming planet

The climate change and migration nexus in Bangladesh

Climate Change Likely to Displace Millions

IOM, ICIMOD to study effect of labour migration, remittance on climate change adaptation

Afterthoughts on the Kiribati climate-induced migration meeting

Study calls on United Nations to clarify legal status of environmental migrants

Climate Migration and Disability 

Climate-forced migration, displacement still unaddressed

Soil turn to sand

Increased Migration

Bangladesh to promote climate displacement as global dev agenda

Le drame des migrants climatiques

COP21: países insulares alertan sobre desplazados por cambio climático

Desplazados climáticos: ¿La próxima gran crisis migratoria?

Klima und Migration: Suas Hoffnung auf ein besseres Leben

Land unter im Pazifik: Inselstaaten rufen um Hilfe in Paris 

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