People around the world are already feeling the impacts of climate change and many around the world, particularly in poorer countries, are forced to move because of extreme weather events. Rarely are the voices of these people heard - and organisations working on their behalf aren't always engaged in climate conversations. Our internationally acclaimed climate change & migration programme combines academic research with practice to allow for a more open conversation.
Something happened at the Paris climate change negotiations that has not grabbed the headlines. While the media focused on the fact a deal had finally been made, and commentators debated whether the agreement was enough, a very important piece of the agreement quietly slipped past.
The new climate change deal does not simply commit governments to reduce emissions and fund adaptation - it also commits them to work together in order to stop people being displaced by the impacts of climate change, and to assist the many people who, inevitably, will be displaced.
The idea of including migration and displacement in the climate change talks has been controversial. States have wrangled over whether anything about displacement should be included in the deal at all. High emitting countries, fearing it will create obligations to accept more migrants, have tried to remove the wording. States already threatened by climate impacts have fought to keep it in. There has also been a controversial debate about whether including migration in the international climate negotiations is even a good idea. After all, most people displaced by climate change impacts move within their own country - or possibly to a neighbouring country. So why include it in negotiations involving every country in the world? It’s an issue, some critics argue, for individual countries or groups of neighbouring countries to address.
Regardless of the issues and criticisms, displacement has been included in the climate deal that came out of Paris - but what will happen next raises some important questions.
Key among these is who gets to make decisions going forward. The agreement has created a “task force” whose job it is to create recommendations about how to address displacement linked to climate change. The new task force should be focused on the needs of people who are at risk of displacement, or have already been displaced by climate impacts. What isn’t clear yet is how the concerns of such populations will be heard by the new task force. We can be relatively optimistic that there will be a role for civil society representation as part of the task force, which should help create a link between vulnerable communities and the task force. For this to work, however, the civil society groups involved will need to be working directly with people at risk of displacement, or at the very least have significant understanding of their concerns and needs.
Representation of vulnerable states on the task force is also important. It seems likely that the task force will include people representing the interests of low lying countries and other countries whose populations are at risk of displacement. However, the amount of influence these countries will have over the decisions of the task force is not yet clear.
The new task force has been set up to produce recommendations, but it is not yet clear what will happen to them once they have been created. It seems likely that whatever the task force recommends will have significant costs attached to them. How the implementation of these recommendations will be financed is still unclear.
Although the agreement and new task force present a host of unanswered questions, this should not detract from the importance and significance of this step forward. It is key that civil society groups - especially those from and working in vulnerable countries - are part of the conversation that tries to answer these questions. By being involved in this conversation, the voices of people most at risk can begin to shape the task force’s recommendations.