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Migration and climate

A man looks at the sea near Nouakchott, Mauritania.

Extreme weather events caused or compounded by climate change, such as storms, flooding and droughts, are turning into a fulminating and direct threat to the livelihoods of many people – for example by causing serious disruption to infrastructure and socio-economic structures.

Insidious environmental changes such as soil salinisation and the rise in sea levels have long-term consequences for people's economic situation and their health and safety. Furthermore, the impacts of climate change can cause, or exacerbate, violent conflicts.

Many developing countries are particularly hard hit by these effects. They face the challenge of having to avert or reduce or, failing that, at least cushion themselves from the direct consequences of climate change, despite a lack of resources and capacity to do so. As a result, people sometimes are forced to migrate, for instance from rural areas to cities.

Flooding in Mozambique

Climate change-induced human mobility

People who are particularly severely affected by the negative changes brought on by global warming may use – often temporary – migration as one way of adapting to climate change. This kind of migration – including temporary displacement often caused by extreme weather events – and relocation in response to climate change are referred to as "climate change-induced human mobility".

The factors that can lead to the decision to migrate are as complex as the consequences of climate change itself. Along with changing climatic conditions, economic, political, socio-cultural or demographic aspects can also be strong push factors, which in turn can be reinforced by changes in environmental and climatic conditions. Environmental changes such as natural tectonic movements or environmental pollution – although not caused by climate change – can also trigger migration.

Internally displaced persons in South Sudan

Migration forecasts difficult

Current scientific knowledge does not allow us to make precise forecasts of what kind of impact climate change will have on a given region or local area. And even if it were possible to make such forecasts, they would not help us to accurately predict migration movements induced by climate change.

Thus, while comprehensive analyses of the risks of climate change and related disasters are able to pinpoint specific local areas that are likely to be severely affected by the impact of climate change, these analyses do not furnish any scientifically reliable data about how many of the people living in such areas are going to be displaced or respond by migrating or relocating elsewhere.

The number of people deciding to migrate – whether temporarily or permanently – in response to climate change impacts is, in any case, not a reliable indicator of how severely a society is affected by the negative impacts of climate change. One reason for this is that many people do not possess the (material) means to migrate elsewhere. Such people are referred to as "trapped populations".

Internally displaced persons in Somalia

Number of internally displaced people expected to grow

It is safe to assume that, in the future too, the majority of people migrating – or displaced temporarily – because of climate change will stay within the borders of their own countries. The World Bank predicts that, if no decisive action is taken to mitigate the effects of climate change, a further 143 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and South Asia are likely to become internally displaced by 2050.

That said, it is also expected that most people will return home to their own countries or regions as soon as they can. This is what most people tend to do, in particular following extreme weather events and natural disasters. In 2017, extreme weather events displaced about 18 million people. However, based on the data gathered so far, it is impossible to anticipate precisely how the longer-term impacts of climate change, such as rising sea levels, will influence migratory behaviour.

Nevertheless, one thing is clear: in future many more people will be driven out of their towns and villages by extreme weather events as well as other, slow-onset changes.

Dried-out soil

Mitigation and adaptation

In order to ensure that people threatened by the negative effects of climate change can lead self-determined lives, we need to take determined action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and to curb the rise in global temperatures.

In places where it is too late to avert the impacts of climate change, local people must receive help to adapt to the new situation. They will need a high level of adaptive capacity vis-à-vis extreme weather events and long-term changes in the climate, and must be put in a position where they will be able to deal with the resulting negative effects.

Ethiopian nomads who have settled in a village in the Somali region of Ethiopia due to persistent drought.

German activities

People who experience migratory pressure as a result of climate change impacts must be given special support – regardless of whether they actually migrate or not. The latter are known as "trapped populations" because they are unable, or unwilling, to migrate.

To provide such support, the German government uses several approaches in its development cooperation programme. For example:

Reducing greenhouse gases

Measures to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will eventually slow the rise in extreme weather events and will limit slow-onset effects of climate change. Germany supports such a holistic approach to "comprehensive climate risk management" through its development cooperation activities.

Solar installation in Bangladesh

Adaptation activities

Adaptation activities, disaster risk management and tools to cope with residual climate risks (for example with the help of climate risk insurance) all help to improve resilience or, in other words, the ability to cope with changes brought about by climate change. Such steps can help ensure that people will be able to remain where they live, or can help create the right conditions for a swift return.

Improving the resilience of urban areas

Measures to strengthen the resilience of cities are important, since climate change tends, within most countries or regions, to lead to migration movements predominantly into urban areas. That is why in particular migrants and displaced persons who move into urban areas need protection and support.

Traffic in Colombo, Sri Lanka

Paying special attention to climate-sensitive sectors

Special attention must be paid to climate-sensitive areas of economic activity such as the agricultural, fishing and water sectors. Measures to introduce sustainable land use planning or conserve water resources, for example, can reduce migratory pressures.

Drip irrigation on a field in Ethiopia

Helping migrants in their decision-making

Conditions must be such that people intent on migrating can base their decisions to do so on accurate information. In some cases, migration can be used as a strategy for coping with the impacts of climate change – for example when family members who have migrated elsewhere help augment the family income of those left behind by sending them money.

The Centre for Career Guidance and Retraining of the GIZ in Bizerte helps young people to find their way around the Tunisian labour market.

Making regular migration possible

Regularising some kinds of international migration (for example, seasonal labour migration) can be helpful, in particular in cases where the migrants come from regions severely affected by climate change.

A trainee at work

Support for "trapped populations"

"Trapped populations" should receive special support. Such support can include improving the living conditions in the areas where they live, or providing accurate information so that they can make an informed decision about whether to migrate – within their own country or abroad.

A woman with her children in an IDP camp in Southern Sudan

Voluntary and planned relocation

In some cases, adaptation activities will make little difference, and some areas will become uninhabitable as a result of climate change. In such cases, development cooperation activities can be used to ensure that voluntary and planned relocations as a "last resort" are socially compatible, are carried out in consultation with the people affected, and give people the chance to build a new life for themselves elsewhere. In the absence of other solutions, relocations can be a way to reduce risks and save human lives.

International processes

Germany is also supporting international processes in this field.

Task Force on Displacement

At the climate conference in Paris in 2015, Germany called for a working group to be set up on climate change-induced displacement, migration and human mobility. As a consequence of the working group's findings, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts associated with Climate Change Impacts was given the mandate to set up a "Task Force on Displacement".

This task force took up its work in early 2017, and is to submit its recommendations at the conference being held in Katowice, Poland, in late 2018. It falls within the remit of the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) to represent Germany on the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism.

Initiatives to manage climate risks

The BMZ works to facilitate the implementation of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction of the United Nations at both policy-making and practical level. Furthermore, the BMZ represents Germany in the World Bank's Consultative Group of the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery, and provides financial support for its trust fund and other initiatives targeted at reducing climate risks (such as CREWS, the Climate Risk Early Warning Systems).

Valuable support for better climate risk management also comes from the InsuResilience Global Partnership, set up in late 2017 at Germany's instigation during the climate conference in Bonn.

The Protection Agenda

The BMZ supports the proposals made in the Protection Agenda endorsed by the Nansen Initiative in October 2015. These proposals include the following priority measures: (i) improved management, within affected countries, of the risks that can lead to displacement; (ii) better humanitarian protection mechanisms for cross-border migration, and (iii) improved data collection and knowledge management.

A Platform on Disaster Displacement was set up to help implement the Protection Agenda. Germany presided over the Platform until the end of 2017 and, since then, has been a proactive member.

Global Compact on Migration

Germany supports the implementation of the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants adopted in 2016, including the framing of a global compact to ensure safe, regular and orderly migration – to be called the "Global Compact for Migration". This compact is to take account of the negative effects of climate change as a driver of migration. The international conference at which the Global Compact for Migration is to be adopted is to take place in Marrakech, Morocco, in December 2018.

  • A woman with her children in an IDP camp in Southern Sudan
    Bangladesh: cooperation in action

    New prospects for the displaced in Khulna

    Bangladesh is struggling to cope with the effects of climate change. Large parts of the country are situated in the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta, the world's largest river delta. One fifth of the country could be left permanently under water as sea levels rise.

  • The Pacific Islands: cooperation in action

    Planned relocation

    The Pacific island states are particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of climate change. Whilst they contribute only marginally to global warming, they suffer disproportionately from the negative impacts because of their geography, which leaves them with few options for adapting to climate change.

A woman with her children in an IDP camp in Southern Sudan
Bangladesh: cooperation in action

New prospects for the displaced in Khulna

Bangladesh is struggling to cope with the effects of climate change. Large parts of the country are situated in the Ganges-Brahmaputra Delta, the world's largest river delta. One fifth of the country could be left permanently under water as sea levels rise. On top of that, Bangladesh is already the most densely populated country in the world. The melting of glaciers, ever heavier Monsoon rainfalls, more frequent cyclones, rising sea levels and the worsening erosion along river banks are together destroying the living space of millions of people. People on low incomes are particularly hard hit by the effects of global warming.

The areas along Bangladesh's many river banks and coastal strips are particularly vulnerable. This is where Najma and Qulsum used to live. Severe river erosion destroyed all of Qulsum's family's arable farmland and forced them to relocate to the nearest larger town. Najma, too, had to leave her home after a cyclone destroyed everything she owned. She found shelter in a humble shack without windows in an informal settlement in the city of Khulna. While Qulsum and Najma have found work, all be it as very low-paid domestic servants, many other people living in the settlement – like 18-year-old Rokeya – have no work whatsoever.

Around 70 per cent of the slum dwellers in Khulna came to the city because of the effects of climate change. However, the city of Khulna, with its 1.5 million inhabitants, only lies two to four metres above sea level. As part of its development cooperation, Germany provides support to the city's authorities to help them manage the influx of people relocating there in order to escape the effects of climate change.

Improving the living conditions in Khulna

The city's small and medium-sized businesses are offering further training and the city itself is engaged in labour-intensive measures to overhaul and expand the city's water, sanitation and power supply systems. As a result, living conditions in the slums and people's prospects of finding employment are improving.

Royeka, who lives in the Rupscha Shashan Ghat slum, comments happily: "With this advanced training in electrical engineering, I as a women now have better prospects of finding a job, in particular in households where there is no male family member present and a male technician would therefore not be acceptable. That is why I am very pleased about this further training."

Protecting the city against flooding

Germany is contributing out of its development cooperation funds to the Cities Development Initiative for Asia, a regional climate fund. The initiative is helping Khulna's municipal authorities to pave the roads and construct drainage channels so that the city is better protected against regular flooding and better prepared for climate change. As a result, the city's neighbourhoods are no longer flooded for weeks at a time. Slum areas benefit particularly from this, because the improved roads mean that they are permanently connected to the transport grid, providing new economic opportunities for the people who live there.

Khulna

A woman with her children in an IDP camp in Southern Sudan
Rickshaw driver on the completed bypass road in Khulna, Bangladesh
Rickshaw driver on the completed bypass road in Khulna, Bangladesh
Dam road to protect a residential area at the port of Khulna in Bangladesh
Dam road to protect a residential area at the port of Khulna in Bangladesh
Two workers on a construction site on the banks of the Mayur River in the city of Khulna on a bank reinforcement.
Project marking in the redevelopment area Jessore-Joragate in Khulna, Bangladesh
Building a new road in Khulna, Bangladesh
The Pacific Islands: cooperation in action

Preventing climate change-induced displacement through planned relocation

The Pacific island states are particularly vulnerable to the negative consequences of climate change. Whilst they contribute only marginally to global warming, they suffer disproportionately from the negative impacts because of their geography, which leaves them with few options for adapting to climate change.

Many inhabitants are already exposed to extreme weather events such as cyclones and droughts. The expected rise in sea levels and in temperatures, the changes in patterns of precipitation, and the acidification of the oceans will exacerbate these risks even further and threaten the livelihoods of the people living on these islands.

Through its development cooperation work, Germany is supporting pilot projects in which small-scale relocations are planned and carried out, and the people affected are included in the planning and execution of the projects. These activities are all part of a comprehensive programme of climate risk management geared to enhancing the capacities of the local population, their civil society partners, national authorities and regional organisations so that they are better able to cope with the effects of climate change.

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Topic "Climate change and development"

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