Published on People Move

The Global Compacts and Environmental Drivers of Migration

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The Global Compacts on Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and on Refugees hold the potential for addressing the causes of and improving responses to migration, displacement and relocation across borders as a result of sudden- and slow-onset natural disasters, environmental degradation, and the adverse effects of climate change. The compacts reference and, in the case of the migration compact, provide specific commitments to address the drivers of environmental mobility and to develop policies aimed at ensuring greater protection for those affected by these movements. KNOMAD has released a policy brief based on the findings of the Thematic Working Group on Environmental Migration. It outlines the ways in which the compacts address environmental issues, including climate change; identifies gaps and weaknesses in the current drafts of the compact; and makes recommendations to enhance the compacts’ provisions on environmental mobility.
In short, we note the paucity of references to internal movements, which are likely to be the vast majority of those driven by environmental factors. A recent World Bank report, Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration, projects that “without urgent global and national climate action, Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and Latin America could see more than 140 million people move within their countries’ borders by 2050” as a consequence of slow onset effects of climate change We recommend that the compacts should expand on the relationship between internal and international migration and displacement, committing, at a minimum, to bring states, experts and other stakeholders together to identify mechanisms to improve protection of the rights of internal migrants and displaced persons.
The compacts should also identify ways to enhance international cooperation in identifying solutions for those who may otherwise become trapped at home, unable to find protection elsewhere from dangerous situations. Options to be considered include resilience building programs for those who could remain in situ with greater resources and assistance as well as planned relocation initiatives for those who need to move but cannot do so on their own. Special focus should be given to addressing the needs of the elderly, disabled, separated children, those living in extreme poverty and other vulnerable populations.
Similarly, better systems are needed for identifying and, where necessary, providing protection and assistance for those in mixed migration situations who cannot return home because of environmental or other life-threatening situation. Without new legal standards at the national, regional or global level that identify under what circumstances those fleeing or threatened by life-threatening environmental drivers will be protected from forcible return (refoulement in refugee terms), many thousands of those now labeled as migrants, not asylum seekers, may remain at risk. Both compacts should address this issue, as it falls into the gap between the two instruments.
Further, the migration compact should expand on the ways in which safe, orderly and regular migration can be an effective component of a toolkit to help communities reduce the risk of disasters and adapt to the slow-onset effects of climate change. The focus presently is on humanitarian admissions rather than labor migration, education and training, and family reunification—the likely vehicles through which migration can promote adaptation and enhance disaster risk reduction.
Finally, the compacts should expand on the role, relationships, and funding mechanisms to be used in building the capacity of States to implement their commitments that relate to environmental drivers of migration. At a minimum, both compacts should reference the various funding mechanisms for climate adaptation and mitigation and disaster risk reduction to ensure that they fund the type of activities addressed in the compacts.


Susan Martin

Director, Institute for the Study of International Migration, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Elizabeth Ferris

Research Professor, Institute for the Study of International Migration, School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University

Kanta K. Rigaud

Lead Environmental Specialist

Jonas Bergmann

Consultant, World Bank

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