On 10 November 2021, IOM together with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), the African Risk Capacity (ARC) and the Government of France organized a high-level event at the COP26 French Pavilion on Migration and Displacement in the era of the Climate Emergency: Political and Operational Challenges and Strategies at Global Level and in West Africa and the Sahel. This high-level event was part of the IOM project "Implementing Global Policies on Environmental Migration and Disaster Displacement in West Africa" (IOM MECC project) funded by the Government of France and of the French Presidency of the Platform on Disaster Displacement (PDD).

The objective of the event was to better understand the dynamics of climate migration and displacement in West Africa and the Sahel; UNHCR and IOM’s work at the global and regional level in West Africa and the Sahel in particular; how a disaster risk management mechanism can reduce the impact of climate change on migration and displacement in West Africa and the Sahel, by linking the work of UNHCR and IOM with the work that ARC is undertaking; and foster an interdisciplinary conversation between key representatives who act at the policy and operational level in West Africa and the Sahel.

The West Africa and Sahel region is one of the most mobile and, according to the IPCC, one of the most vulnerable, experiencing intersecting risks. To respond to the migration, environment and climate change nexus, an integrated approach between humanitarian and development programmes, but also between the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Paris Agreement on climate change and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) is essential. This was the key message of Stéphane Pailler, Deputy Director of the Environment and Climate Department (CLEN), at the French Ministry for European and Foreign Affairs’ (MEAE), who opened the discussion. He emphasized that partnerships are key to support such an integrated approach, and interagency partnerships and dialogue are central, including to the French-funded IOM MECC project in West Africa, the CREWS initiative and the present event. 

People impacted by disasters and climate change shared their testimonies on video. Mame Diarra Sene (Senegal), Ousmane Gning (Senegal) and Sébastien Kouame Koffi (Côte d’Ivoire) have seen their livelihoods impacted by drought and shared how financial resources provided by the ARC supported them in the aftermath. Robert MATI (Cameroon), Issa MAHMAT (Cameroon), and Assiam Yere (Chad) shared testimonies of the links between environmental change, natural resources and conflict. Bande Makido, a herder in Burkina Faso, described the impact of resources decline and policies of transhumant movements.

To respond to these risks, Mami Mizutori, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction and Head of UNDRR highlighted the need to understand them better together with the vulnerabilities of the populations for an adapted response. To support adapted responses, she shared three calls for action 1) to act on the commitment of $100 billion for climate finance, with a division of 50/50 for mitigation and adaptation, 2) to set higher ambitions to avert, minimise and address loss and damage, and 3) to invest in long-term risk financing. Ibrahima Cheikh Diong, UN Assistant Secretary General and Director General of the African Risk Capacity Group, added that the issue is not only to have access to climate finance but the speed to which one can access such finance. Systems of fast financing in the context of disaster risk have been tested in the past and should be scaled up. He further emphasized the leadership position of the African Union in supporting States impacted by disasters such as drought. 

Ugochi Daniels, IOM Deputy Director General for Operations, reminded that we owe people our full commitment to implement the principles adopted in the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework, and the GCM. IOM is working to support states worldwide to implement their commitments, including in West Africa. Al-Hamdou Dorsouma, Acting Director of the Climate Change and Green Growth Department at the African Development Bank (AfDB), reminded the need for efforts to address structural factors. While drought and other climatic factors have become structural, it is also essential to consider non-climatic factors, such as conflicts, as they force migration and impact development efforts of countries in the region. Resilience needs to become a priority of development, which is still not the case today. In its new climate strategy, AfDB focuses on adaptation and resilience, in alignment with the Paris Agreement. He concluded with the need to also transform the narrative in the Sahel region from an area of challenge to an area of opportunity. Yao Bernard Koffi, Head of the Environment and Climate Change Division at the ECOWAS Commission, took the opportunity of this event to make a three-step call on: 1) the need for more and better documenting and profiling of risks, on 2) an integrated approach between sectorial policies (integrating migration in climate policies, and climate in migration policies), and on 3) further partnerships, that would support the operationalization of ECOWAS Thematic Working Group of the Migration Dialogue for West Africa on “Climate change, land degradation, desertification, environment and migration.”

Emi Mahmoud, Sudanese-American Slam Poet and UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador, was present to share lines of her poem Our land. She introduced her poem by calling for more inclusive political processes to have voices of affected populations at the discussion table. This call was followed by the intervention of Caroline Dumas, IOM Special Envoy for Migration and Climate Action, who reminded of the need to focus on adaptation and add the most vulnerable people at the center of our policies. We need more targeted, accessible, sustainable finance for the countries and communities that need it. Andrew Harper, UNHCR Special Advisor on Climate Action further highlighted the urgency in supporting resilience, building up preparedness and facilitating the adaptation of affected populations, to give them a sense of future. 

Circling back to the need of more integrated approaches and partnerships, Guillaume Bouveyron, Disaster Risk Reduction Expert at the French Development Agency (AFD), stated that the disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation agenda need to be taken forward together. On behalf of the AFD, he called for: 1) the end of a siloed approach, 2) better prevention through adaptation, 3) including the perceptions and knowledge of displaced populations, and 4) creating a DRR and CCA event that would reinforce a common position and work.

To close the session, Atle Solberg, Head of the PDD Secretariat and moderator of the session, summarised the rich discussions in four messages. Firstly, risks need to be addressed in a comprehensive manner, taking into account all factors together including climate and conflict. Secondly, as we need to move away from a silo approach, the different policies, and tools (as in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction) need to be implemented in an integrated way and understood as one tool. Thirdly, addressing displacement and migration requires effective financing mechanisms and efficient institutional support, and the present event showed the presence of both African and international support. Finally, at this stage, there are not enough good practices: action and good practices to address disaster displacement and environmental migration need to be scaled up.