The fact that COP23 will be the first COP under the presidency of a small island state, Fiji, draws particular attention to the plight of those that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. One of the starkest impacts will be the forced migration of millions of people, as sea levels rise and natural disasters grow more frequent.
As recently as this past Wednesday, Vanuatu was hit by cyclone Donna, and cyclone Ella also came close to striking Fiji. As climate change progresses, these extreme events will only intensify, along with other effects such as desertification, sea level rise, and soil erosion. These phenomena will drive millions of people away from their homes, often with no hope of return. The International Displacement Monitoring Centre estimates that roughly 22.5 million persons are already displaced each year because of climate change. Future forecasts indicate that there may be as many as 200 million to 1 billion climate migrants by 2050. These climate change induced migrations will affect developing countries, as well as developed countries. However, not all people have the same capacity or economic ability to resettle.
In light of this, the UNFCCC climate talks must be an arena to discuss the important issue of climate-induced displacement, especially now that the Paris Agreement has explicitly connected climate change to human rights. The rights of displaced people should be a key topic of discussion, leading to the framing of a better governance structure to help countries cope. Effective adaptation measures and climate change resilience building, as well as careful planning and support for relocation and resettlement, are essential to help countries limit forced migration.
The issue of climate-induced migration requires political attention and careful negotiation that considers cross-disciplinary issues such as human rights; women’s rights; preservation of culture and traditions; and food security. With a small island state that is particularly vulnerable to climate induced migration presiding over COP 23, it would only be appropriate that Parties take collective responsibility for highlighting the challenges faced by climate migrants, and the need for measures to protect their rights – both under the UNFCCC and in ongoing UN processes related to migration.