Addressing climate-induced losses and damages, and human mobility

February 18, 2023

Due to the large numbers of communities and individuals impacted by climate change, which result in climate migration, and displacement the need to address climate induced huma mobility is fast becoming a key focus of those looking at holistic and multi-sectoral approaches to climate action. 

Climate migration could be defined as the movement of a person or groups of persons who are obliged to leave their habitual place of living, or choose to make a choice to do so as a temporary or permanent measure due to reasons interlinked with sudden or slow-onset based impacts due to climate change. Such movement could be within a State or transboundary with actions that needs implementing taking into consideration country-context, as well as social and cultural sensitivities. 

Under the UN climate change process, a task force was established in 2015 which focuses on climate-induced displacement. The Task Force on Displacement in its first phase was mandated to develop recommendations for integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacement connected to adverse climate impacts. The mandate of the task force was later extended in 2018, with a focus on enhancing cooperation and facilitation in relation to human mobility, which includes migration, displacement as well as planned relocation

Intersectional approaches to human mobility

Human mobility cannot be pinpointed to be caused by one specific factor, and present multiple factors that are interlinked. These could include environmental and social factors, economic factors, implications of climate and disaster risk resulting in loss of habitual lieu of residence. 

Given the complexities which relate to human movement, it is important that approaches for addressing human mobility focus on components that drive or trigger human movement through a multi-sectoral and holistic approach. 

The question remains whether the movement of humans is a voluntary one or a forced one; whether there was the ability to choose one’s relocation, there was sufficient resources, there is a choice of livelihood – a skill that is based on existing capacities or whether there is an abandonment of one’s livelihood and existing skills. 

Additionally, it is important to understand the losses caused by migration and displacement. This could include the emotional attachment to one’s former residence and emotional stress caused by having to leave behind one’s way of life and memories of a life attached to the place abandoned. It is equally important to understand the potential loss of culture, livelihoods and practices, whether these could be recovered or whether migration results in their complete loss which cannot be relived or revived. 

Capacity needs for effective action  

Capacity needs to address climate induced human mobility are many. Among these, the need for technical and financial support to address the support needs of institutions and individuals/ practitioners addressing climate induced migration and displacement remain a key factor. 

Among key capacity needs highlighted by experts on human mobility and climate change include data and information related needs related to effectively addressing climate-induced human mobility; capacity needs to integrate climate-induced human mobility into policy making processes at all levels; capacity needs related to better understanding and projecting dynamics related to human mobility, and the synergies between local and national level actions. 

Additional capacity needs that are highlighted  include technical support needed for integration of human mobility and climate action into multiple sectors, such as through multisectoral approaches and policy and planning processes; capacity building for bridging gaps between local and national level actions, including strengthening the institutional capacity. 

Economic empowerment of vulnerable communities and groups, understanding the needs of communities and existing skills on which capacity building for livelihood generation and support, as well as providing skills related to entrepreneurship are also key aspects that are  important in holistic approaches relevant to climate change and human mobility. 

Examples and good practices

Some of the good practices which are examples for approaches to better addressing human mobility includes receiving communities that embrace migrants. This includes scenarios where conflicts do not occur between migrant groups and those in receiving communities which requires approaches that are social and cultural sensitive. Some of the examples which build on this premise is the concept of migrant-friendly cities in Bangladesh. For example the city of Mongla which functions as a model for urban adaptation while offering an alternative vision for addressing climate-induced migration. The city’s vision of resilience invests in people, and over the coming years the aim is to attract those who are climate migrants or displaced from coastal regions to play a key role in the economic transformation of Mongla.

Other examples of integration of climate induced human mobility into national planning processes include the Nationally Determined Contribution of the Republic of Vanuatu under the Paris Agreement, which has a key focus on addressing climate induced losses and damage with a focus on human mobility. Additionally, the National Adaptation Plan of Fiji also provides examples of how human mobility is indicated as an element of focus, as well as accessing support needs through multi-stakeholder approaches to address the needs of climate-induced human mobility. Further, Sri Lanka’s NDCs also focus on loss and damage as key component, which allows for activities on human mobility to be interlinked under this thematic focus. 

Understanding and addressing the factors that drive communities and individuals into human mobility and relocation remain vital. For example, research on economic migrants in Sri Lanka, indicate while the primary factor for migration could be based on economic needs, secondary factors/ and elements that caused the need for scaled up finance present losses and damages due to disasters faced and the inability to build-back from such incidents. This could be a landslide during intense rains that destroyed one’s house and the individual’s inability to rebuild the house based on the person’s existing income. Approaches building on research and evidence which identify the drivers/ triggers of human mobility, as well as the multi-faceted scenarios which need to be addressed through gender responsive, participatory and location specific, and culture-sensitive approaches could help in ensuring that migrants and displaced are accepted by the receiving communities. 

Note: This article builds on an article published on The Morning as part of the author’s weekly column.

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About the Author
Vositha Wijenayake

Vositha is an attorney-at-law specialising in public international law, with a focus on international environmental law, UN human rights law, refugee law and EU law. She has over a decade of experience in working on climate change, at national and international level. Vositha is a member of the national expert committee on climate change adaptation of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, national expert on vulnerability and adaptation measures for the Third National Communication of Sri Lanka to the UNFCCC for the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, and is a delegate focusing on compliance, adaptation, loss and damage, and gender for the Sri Lankan delegation to the UNFCCC since 2016. She is also a consultant to the UNFCCC national adaptation plans and policy unit, and worked as a country support consultant to the UNDP NAP Global Support Programme. Vositha has an LLM in public international law from University College London, and an LLB from University of London. ‍