As parts of our planet become less habitable, people will move – either in anticipation of environmental change or in reaction to catastrophic events. For millennia people have moved in response to environmental hazards. Migration is a tried-and-true survival strategy. However, pressures for human migration will likely increase to unprecedented levels. Many will be trapped in place because they either do not have the means to increase restrictions on movement. Twelve years ago, COP16 called for further work on migration, displacement and planning for relocation as strategies for adaptation. COP27 is an opportune moment to translate that general affirmation into action. 

What can and should COP27 do? First, it must put more teeth into mitigation efforts. Reducing carbon emissions – or at least slowing the growth rate in emissions – is the single most important measure to reduce the risk of climate displacement. Current efforts are falling far short of the levels needed for effective mitigation. 

Second, do more to reduce the risk of disasters. We have hundreds of recommendations and important international frameworks like the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction, but more money and political will are needed. Only 2% of overseas development aid presently goes to disaster risk reduction, even though the evidence shows that a dollar spent on reducing the risk of disasters reduces damages by six dollars.  Reducing the risk of disasters not only saves money, it saves lives. According to the World Meteorological Organization, while the number of disasters increased five times over the last 50 years, the number of fatalities decreased three-fold. As the frequency of catastrophic climate events increases, building on this progress is crucial. 

Third, donor countries must get serious about using adaptation funding to support governments to begin planning for climate mobility in their own contexts. This could include looking at areas where people are at risk of environmental hazards, and projecting where people are likely to move as well as supporting local governments likely to lose or increase their populations. A recent analysis by the Migration Policy Institute noted that donors are leery of funding climate migration-specific projects over political concerns and uncertainty over the types of projects to fund. It is crucial for COP 27 to mobilize funding on this issue. Even with mitigation and risk reduction measures, climate-induced migration is already occurring and likely to increase. While planned and orderly migration can be an effective adaptation strategy and should be supported, every effort must be made to minimize the pain of such moves and to minimize forced displacement. 

Read the full article about climate migration by Reva Dhingra and Elizabeth Ferris at Brookings.