Previously published on the UK Climate Change & Migration Coalition.

 This winter world leaders will meet in Paris to hammer out an agreement on tackling climate change. The headline issues for the talks are who will reduce their emissions by how much, and who will pay for the adaptation measures that will be needed. One of the lesser know topics will be migration and displacement. And specifically, how should states cooperate in order to deal with the displacement linked to climate change impacts? This has been a hot topic for many countries vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. However, this week the issue of migration disappeared during the preliminary talks. Have the voices of the most vulnerable countries been silenced, or is there still hope for addressing climate linked displacement in Paris this year?

This week many people have been worried that any discussion of displacement and migration might be gone from the Paris climate change talks.

Over the past few months a draft agreement has been hammered out in a series of smaller meetings. World leaders will then meet in Paris to negotiate on the final version. Of course leaders and their civil servants may radically alter the draft agreement over the two weeks of negotiations. But the draft of the agreement they start with is still vitally important.

There have been several versions of this draft text over the past year. It has changed after each interim meeting as states try to agree reach agreement. But if you look back at any of them you’ll find this paragraph:

Provisions for establishing a climate change displacement coordination facility that:

  • Provides support for emergency relief;
  • Assists in providing organized migration and planned relocation;
  • Undertakes compensation measures.

This paragraph has gone from the latest version of the text. This lead to many fearing that the issue of climate linked displacement was gone from the Paris climate negotiations. Clearly it is not good that this paragraph no longer forms part of the agreement states will begin negotiating in Paris. In fact a huge amount of specific detail has been removed between the current draft and the previous draft. The drafts produced in February and June were over 80 pages long. The current draft is 20 pages. Getting the draft agreement down to roughly this size is a vital part of producing an agreement that stands a chance of success.

However we should not see the paragraph’s removal as a mere formality. The paragraph on displacement was supported by many of the countries most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It was supported by many of the poorest countries, who are likely to suffer the consequences unchecked climate change. For many of these countries climate-linked displacement is a very real problem. Wealthier or high emitting countries possibly saw the paragraph as creating a number of obligations. Firstly a financial obligation, to assist during disasters. Secondly, the beginnings of an obligation to allow entry into their countries for people forced to move by climate impacts.

However this is short sighted of states that have pushed for the removal of the displacement paragraph. The paragraph calls for coordination and organisation. The hope of the paragraph was that human movement linked to climate change might happen in an organised way, rather than in a chaotic and disordered way. If we’ve learned anything in Europe over past few months it that when displacement happens, it is far better for governments to be coordinated and organised. Chaos benefits no one.

I asked Koko Warner – who has been deeply involved in the the UN process for many years –  about the missing of the paragraph. Her argument is that we should not see this as the end of the line. There are still a number of reasons to be hopeful about the presence of migration and displacement in the Paris talks. Removing specific detail doesn’t necessarily mean that the proposals can’t be reintroduced. It may be that a state will attempt to re-insert the deleted paragraph during the negotiations in Paris. Walter Kalin –  a leading humanitarian and international law expert – shared a similar reflection. A paragraph’s deletion is not the end, if there is broad enough support it can be reintroduced at a later stage.

But we must begin to ask: what happens if the paragraph is not in the agreement?

The absence of this paragraph from the final agreement doesn’t prevent states reaching agreement on the climate linked displacement in the future. The absence of the displacement paragraph means there is more space for states to drag their feet, or object entirely. But this will be the case with many aspects of the agreement. Any global agreement amounting to only a few tens of pages will inevitably create hundreds of areas that require states to meet again and negotiate more detailed plans. In the absence of the displacement paragraph we can hope that the Paris talks lay the groundwork for future coordination between states on displacement linked to climate change – even if the final text itself does not contain the concrete proposals for how this can happen.

The Paris climate talks are not the only show in town when it comes to climate linked displacement and migration. The issue of human movement linked to climate change touches on so many different areas of international cooperation that trying to address the issue in one agreement may not work.

Here are just a few international agreement that have a bearing on migration and displacement linked to climate change:

  • This year states agreed the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction. The Framework outlines how states will cooperate to reduce the impact of disasters. The agreement “contains important language on displacement linked to climate change.
  • The Nansen Initiative is a state led process currently creating a new framework protecting people displaced across borders by disasters, including the impacts of climate change.
  • The vast majority of climate linked displacement will take place within countries. People will not cross international borders. They should be protected by the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement. There is work to be done making sure states properly adhere to these principal during episodes of displacement.

These international agreements do not mean we can be complacent about Paris. Rather, they show us that this year’s climate negotiations are not the only chance for creating policies that will protect people at risk of displacement due to the impacts of climate change.


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