Reporting on COP: Human Mobility in the Face of Climate Change

The following article is part of an Eco-Perspective special in which the Vermont Journal of Environmental Law is collaborating with the VLS COP22 Observer Delegation


By Beth Bootz

mobilityHuman mobility in the face of climate change is an issue that is closely linked to Loss and Damage (L&D). Under Article 8 of the Paris Agreement, L&D includes extreme weather events as well as slow-onset events. Both extreme weather and slow-onset events could necessitate human mobility or displacement, whether it be rising sea levels displacing coastal communities and entire islands or increasing hurricane and tsunami threats that cause communities to move inland.

In the face of these threats, the COP has taken action. At the end of COP21, decision 1/CP.21 requested that the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) for L&D create a task force on displacement “to develop recommendations for integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change.” Since the COP issued this decision last December, the Executive Committee (Excom) of the WIM has published its 2016 Report to give an update on its progress over the last year, including information on the displacement task force. In the report, the Excom stated that it initiated the task force at its latest meeting and requested that the task force deliver its findings on displacement by COP24.

Keeping in line with this increasing focus on human mobility and displacement due to climate change, Thursday featured three side events on this topic. The first event discussed human mobility in the context of organizations and frameworks outside of the UNFCCC and in some instances, how those organizations and frameworks intersect with mechanisms under the UNFCCC. For example, Dina Ionesco with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) discussed a technical meeting and workshop on human mobility that occurred recently in Casablanca, Morocco, with the WIM in order to discuss capacity building, and action and implementation under the WIM. The WIM continues the call for expert advice from UN organizations and other expert bodies on the topic as part of action area six in its initial two-year workplan, further emphasizing the importance of human mobility and displacement under the WIM.

Another side event focused on the impact and importance of human mobility and displacement in especially vulnerable countries with a focus on a rights-based approach to displacement. This side event featured speakers from APMDD, COAST Trust, LDC Watch, and Friends of the Earth Africa and included discussions on what types of terminology is appropriate—migration or displacement—when discussing human mobility and climate change. Terminology in the context is important because they have set definitions in international law and these definitions don’t always conform with the context under which some human mobility occurs.

The final event from yesterday focused on cultural and heritage losses associated with human mobility and displacement. This event grounded the discussion in the noneconomic loss felt by many communities who voluntarily migrate or who are forced to leave their home behind in the face of repeated natural disasters or rising sea levels. Noneconomic losses are often overlooked when discussing human mobility because it’s difficult to assess these losses when conducting a cost-benefit analysis on whether to uproot communities. However, determining noneconomic losses, like loss of culture, are important to ensure any voluntary migrations are successful. The impacts are real and felt by all of the community members who are forced to leave their homes and sometimes livelihoods behind. Attending to and understanding these communities’ cultural wellbeing in addition to their physical wellbeing is a vital part of the conversation when discussing human mobility and displacement. With the new task force on displacement under the WIM, the above concerns should be taken into account in order to ensure the success of the program in understanding the full range of issues associated with human mobility and displacement due to climate change.