Weather-related events in 2020 displaced residents more than 1.7 million times in the United States—almost double the number from 2019—as reported today by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre. Hundreds of thousands of people suffered evacuation and displacement from relentless hurricanes and multiple western fires, and smaller, just as devastating tornadoes, floods, and storms also contributed to these cases. Displacements occur after many kinds of hazards, but the frequency and severity of these events last year were unprecedented.

These numbers don’t include international displacement from the same events, nor do they include households forced to abandon their communities because chronic flooding, heat, drought, and other environmental changes are not categorized as disasters. Public-sector incentives, infrastructure needs, land conversions, and diminished local economic bases will lead to even more people moving.

All these phenomena are effects of climate change. As the effects become more daunting, the human toll and economic damages will skyrocket, and displacement will increase even more.

Awareness of climate migrants is growing in the media and among elected officials in both the legislative and executive branches. Federal solutions are finally being put forward, but there is still no policy action on the ground for the families who have been moving and who will continue to move. And federal action has largely excluded these communities when creating solutions.

With Enterprise Community Partners, the Urban Institute hosted the Stakeholders Summit on Federal Policy for Climate Displacement, Relocation, and Migration in November 2020 to discuss the challenges and opportunities for federal intervention. Participants came from the federal government; state, tribal, and local governments; local environmental organizations; national environmental and civil rights organizations; and the scholarly community.

Attendees discussed gaps in the federal response to displacement and migration within climate adaptation, with the goal of envisioning a new framework as climate policy evolves under a new presidential administration. These nine principles, summarized from stakeholder conversations at the summit, can inform federal strategies:

  1. Use science
  2. Serve people
  3. Prioritize need
  4. Elevate residents
  5. Avoid harm
  6. Innovate
  7. Streamline processes
  8. Invest
  9. Reform current approaches

Read the full article about principles informing climate policy by Carlos Martín at Urban Institute.