Environmental Migration and the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM)

From the New York Declaration to the GCM Zero Draft

Analysis by Mariam Traore Chazalnoël, Migration, Environment and Climate Change Thematic Specialist and Dina Ionesco, Head of the Migration, Environment and Climate Change Division, IOM.

The New York Declaration[1] for Refugees and Migrants[2], adopted on 19 September 2016 during the 71st session of the General Assembly, formally acknowledged the importance of migration, environment and climate change issues. The Declaration recognized that climate and environmental factors were significant drivers of forced and voluntary migration and also noted that the impacts of migration movements on the environment should not be ignored.

Whilst global climate policy have progressed quickly in recent years in its integration of migration considerations[3], global migration policy has been slower to include climate and environmental dimensions, despite increasing acknowledgements of the relevance of these issues in contemporary migration governance.

Within the framework of the New York Declaration, United Nations (UN) Member States committed to develop, negotiate and adopt a Global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration (GCM)[4] to articulate a common set of commitments on how states could respond to the challenges and opportunities of contemporary migration.

As the GCM process is entering its negotiation phase (from February to July 2018), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) is taking stock of how environmental and climate change factors have been integrated in the consultation and stocktaking phases of the GCM development and how they feature in the Zero Draft[5] of the GCM released on 5 February 2018.

Based on its engagement on migration, climate change and the environment at policy and operational levels; as part of the Climate displacement Task Force under the UNFCCC[6] and as part of the Platform on Disaster Displacement Steering Group, IOM supports states, agencies and other stakeholders with evidence, best practices and information on how climate and environmental factors can be featured  in the global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration at policy and practice levels.


1. How has environmental migration been featured in the GCM consultation and stocktaking phases?

Throughout the year of consultation and stocktaking process, IOM identified about 50 mentions of climate and environmental dimensions made by states. However, these are not firm positions as actual negotiations on the zero draft on the compact start on 20 February 2018.

Environmental migration in the GCM consultation phase: a global topic of interest with common areas of convergence

 An analysis of the available public statements made by states on environmental migration reveal that the topic was raised by states from most regions of the world (Africa, Europe, Asia, South America and the Caribbean), highlighting the global nature of the topic. However, few references were made by states from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).

The bulk of the discussions took place within the framework of the informal Thematic Session 2 – with 27 states taking the floor-, organized in New York on 23 May 2017[7] entitled Addressing drivers of migration, including adverse effects of climate change, natural disasters and human-made crisis, through protection and assistance, sustainable development, poverty eradication conflict prevention and resolution. This Thematic Session included a dedicated panel entitled: Adverse effects of climate change and natural disasters as drivers of migration.

In addition, regional and national consultations were organized in various regions of the world. The importance of environmental and climatic changes as drivers of migration was also discussed in three regional consultations:    Africa – ECA, Asia – ESCAP and Latin America and Caribbean – ECLAC. In addition, some national consultations included climate migration as part of their agenda, such as the Maldives and Madagascar and an entire national consultation was dedicated to climate migration in Azerbaijan.

In addition, the consultations were complemented by official side events, such as the one organized by the Kingdom of Belgium and IOM in the margins of the Thematic Session 2.[8]

IOM has identified key areas of convergence and divergence among states through an analysis of the available statements:

Areas of Convergence

The GCM should be complementary to existing frameworks, such as the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) under the United Nations Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). International cooperation on climate change needs to be reinforced in order to address the migration dimensions, through the implementation of the Paris Agreement, the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), the Sustainable Development Framework (SDG), the Sendai Framework for Action and the S.A.M.O.A. Pathway. In addition, the Nansen Initiative is acknowledged as a successful example of mapping of best practices related to disasters displacement. Climate change is acknowledged as a major driver of migration, however more data and knowledge is needed to understand the climate and migration nexus. There is a protection gap under the current framework to protect environmental migrants. Focusing on early warnings systems, planning and resilience building in affected countries is critical to respond to the challenges of environmental migration.

These areas of convergence are largely reflected in the Zero Draft of the GCM, elaborated on the basis of the discussions conducted during the consultation and stocktaking phases as well as in the Secretary General’s Report “Making Migration Work for All”. However, it is a possibility that the areas of divergence might be debated during the negotiation phase and affect the final shape of the adopted compact.

Finally, the Chair’s Summary of the stocktaking meeting organized in Mexico in December 2017 outlines environmental migration considerations in 5 of the 6(CHECK) Action Groups. The main issues raised by states were the need for better protection of environmental migrants and displaced persons and the necessity to develop guidelines for addressing their specific vulnerabilities as well as the need for regional cooperation on cross border movements of persons affected by disasters.

 Areas of Divergence

The multi-causal nature of environmental migration means that it is difficult to identify the weight of environmental and climatic factors in migration movements. Caution is needed when discussing the potential creation of new legal categories.




2. The GCM Zero Draft: A balanced and comprehensive understanding of environmental migration

On 5 February 2018, the 25-pages Zero Draft of the GCM was released and presented at the United Nations Headquarters. Multiple references to environmental migration have been integrated in the text.

The Zero Draft articulates a broad and comprehensive understanding of the issues at stake in the context of contemporary environmental migration, highlighting various sets of issues related to both forced migration linked to natural disasters as well as migration connected to slow onset environmental degradation. Most of the references are made under Objective 2: Minimizing the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their countries of origin, however environmental and climate concerns are also reflected throughout the Zero Draft. That broad understanding of the multiple facets of environmental migration and of the wide variety of possible policy and programmatic responses is in line with IOM’s institutional vision[9] and recommendations on how a forward looking GCM would look like. The document articulates the necessity to address environmental concerns in migration governance as a matter of shared responsibility :

Objective 2: Minimizing the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their countries of origin (p7)

k) Integrate displacement considerations into disaster preparedness strategies and establish protocols with neighbouring countries to prepare for early warning, contingency planning, stockpiling, coordination mechanisms, evacuation planning, reception and assistance arrangements, and public information

Objective 12: Strengthen procedures and mechanisms for status determination (p15)

a) Support global efforts in situations of broader international protection challenges of mixed movements, such as the UNHCR asylum capacity support group, to promote effective and swift status determination, protection and referral of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants, including those displaced in the context of disasters and crisis

 Objective 2: Minimizing the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their countries of origin (p7)

l) Enhance humanitarian protection measures for cross-border disaster displaced persons, including on admission, stay and situations where return is not possible, and expand mechanisms for resilience and lasting solutions by harmonizing approaches at subregional and regional levels

 Disaster preparedness measures need to better anticipate forced migration movements linked to natural disasters.
Objective 5: Enhance availability and flexibility of pathways for regular migration (p9)

f) Provide temporary or permanent protection and reception schemes for migrants compelled to leave their countries of origin temporarily or permanently in cases when return is not possible, due to sudden-onset natural disasters, slow-onset environmental degradation, emergency situations, and other life-endangering circumstances, including by providing humanitarian visas, private sponsorships, access to education for children, and temporary work permits.

In addition, efforts to close the protection gaps and strengthen procedures and mechanisms for status determination should include those displaced by disasters.
Objective 2: Minimizing the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their countries of origin (p6)

b) Promote the operationalization of the Agenda for the Protection of Cross-Border Displaced Persons in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change, including by supporting the Platform on Disaster Displacement

c) Promote the operationalization of the Guidelines to Protect Migrants in Countries Experiencing Conflict or Natural Disaster (MICIC Guidelines)

There is need to expand the availability and flexibility of legal pathways available to environmental migrants, both at the humanitarian and economic levels, in order to close the observed legal gaps.
Objective 2: Minimizing the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their countries of origin (p7)

f) Strengthen joint analysis and sharing of information to better map, understand, predict and address migration movements and trajectories of persons affected by sudden-onset natural hazards, slow-onset environmental degradation, including the adverse effects of climate change, and life-endangering situations

In order to address the environmental drivers of migration, the GCM need to build upon existing intergovernmental work, such as the efforts conducted under the  Nansen and the MICIC Initiative
Objective 2: Minimizing the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their countries of origin (p7)

j) Develop tailored migration schemes of various duration, including planned temporary and permanent relocation, to facilitate migration as an adaptation strategy to slow-onset environmental degradation related to the adverse effects of climate change, such as desertification and sea level rise

There is a call for more and better data and information, acknowledging the need to build upon and improve the available knowledge base.
Objective 2: Minimizing the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their countries of origin (p6)

16. We commit to create conducive political, economic, social and environmental conditions for people to lead peaceful, productive and sustainable lives in their own country and ensure that desperation and deteriorating environments do not compel them to seek a livelihood elsewhere.

d) Invest in programmes that accelerate fulfilment of the Sustainable Development Goals to minimize the adverse drivers and structural factors that compel people to leave their country of origin, including poverty alleviation, disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and mitigation

The document makes a critical reference to the necessity to facilitate migration as an adaptation strategy, acknowledging that the orderly migration of people might prove necessary.
Preamble (p1)

This Global Compact rests on the principles espoused in the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and core international human rights treaties, (…), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (…) the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, (…) the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction) *

Actionable commitments outline the necessity to address climate change and environmental root causes of migration through comprehensive measures at the national level as well as investment in climate adaptation and mitigation. The Preamble outlines that climate policy and governance principles are of relevance to global migration governance.
Shared Responsibilities (p2)

 The Global Compact (…) seeks to address legitimate concerns of communities about migration and the demographic, economic, social and environmental changes their societies are undergoing.


3. Where is environmental migration in the Secretary General’s Report “Making Migration Work for All”?

In parallel to the consultation and stocktaking exercises conducted by UN Member States that led to the production of the GCM Zero Draft, the UN Secretary General released his Report, Making Migration Work for All[10]. The vision outlined in the Report is very pertinent to environmental migration issues:

  • The Report highlights the fact that migration should not be an act of desperation and migration benefits can be maximized. This is in line with IOM’s vision that migration can constitute an adaptation strategy to climate change, and that legal pathways must be made available to migrants affected by climate change.
  • The Report takes note of the plight of the situation of migrants in vulnerable situations including those affected by the growing effects of environmental degradation and climate change.
  • The Report also notes that large movements of migrants are triggered by environmental, social and other pressures that make people take desperate measures.
  • Both the Nansen Initiative on disaster-induced cross-border displacement and the Migrants in Countries in Crisis initiative are acknowledged for laying down guidelines responding to natural disasters situations.
  • The Report indicates that Member States have already made numerous relevant commitments in an extensive body of international law, including the core human rights instruments and standards, and agreements such as the Paris Climate Agreement.
  • The references to expanding legal pathways, to nondiscriminatory access to health, to addressing irregular migration and to reducing the circumstances that compel people to move are key to contemporary migration governance – and of relevance to climate migration issues.
4. IOM’s analysis of how environmental and climate issues can be included in a forward looking GCM

A global compact for safe, orderly and regular migration offers an unprecedented opportunity to progress in terms of the overall governance and management of international migration and anchor the environmental and climate dimensions in the migration governance agenda. IOM believes it is simply not possible anymore to develop migration policy and governance frameworks without taking into account climate and environmental factors[11]. The question is how to ensure that this important dimension is given due consideration in the global compact negotiations phase, starting in February 2018.

IOM proposes six recommendations to consider in the development of a forward-looking compact on migration, to ensure that environmental and climate-related concerns are duly tackled:

  1. Strengthen the evidence through research, data and analysis on the impacts of climate change, environmental degradation and disasters on migration trends at the global, regional and national levels; as well of impacts of mass movements on the environment.
  2. Enhance the capacities of national and local-level institutions and policymakers through trainings at local, national and regional levels to address environmental migration.
  3. Integrate climate change, disaster and environmental considerations into national and regional migration policy and planning and in traditional migration management domains such as border management, labour migration, family reunification, consular policies, diasporas’ schemes, returns, reintegration.
  4. Develop understanding and use of available tools:  humanitarian tools, options for stay or alternatives that can respond to the needs of people on the move because of environmental and climate change drivers.
  5. Enhance policy coherence by implementing the commitments made on climate change and environmental management, including in specific domains such as land, ocean or water; as well as in disaster risk reduction, human rights, urban and development policies.
5. Background information

The IOM Environmental Migration Portal features a number of resources developed by IOM on climate migration and the GCM, including the IOM paper entitled Migrants and Migration Policy in the Context of the Adverse Effects of Climate Change and Environmental Degradation.

[1] http://www.un.org/en/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=A/RES/71/1

[2] https://environmentalmigration.iom.int/un-summit-refugees-and-migrants


[4] http://refugeesmigrants.un.org/migration-compact

[5] http://refugeesmigrants.un.org/intergovernmental-negotiations

[6] http://unfccc.int/adaptation/groups_committees/loss_and_damage_executive_committee/items/9978.php

[7] http://refugeesmigrants.un.org/drivers-migration

[8] Panelists for the event were the ambassadors of Belgium, Marshall Islands and Fiji along with IOM and academic experts. The event provided an opportunity to discuss the specific situation of the Small Islands Developing States as well as encourage convergence with the UNFCCC COP23 Presidency of Fiji.

[9] https://www.iom.int/sites/default/files/our_work/ODG/GCM/IOM-Thematic-Pa...

[10] http://refugeesmigrants.un.org/report-secretary-general-making-migration...

[11] STATEMENT, Late William Lacy Swing, Former Director General, International Organization for Migration, COP Presidency event: “UN Coherence: low-emission and climate resilient development at national level” 15 November 2017, Bonn