Climate Change

Will climate-induced migration feature at COP21?

People in small island nations and vulnerable deltas, which perhaps had no role in the greenhouse gas emissions changing the world's climate, are at the receiving end of climate impacts

By A K Ghosh
Published: Friday 20 November 2015

Neither the state governments nor academic institutions have conducted any empirical studies on human migration due to climate-induced disasters in India (Photo: Sunita Narain)

One of the biggest events coming up in Paris, only two weeks after terror attacks on November 13, is the 21st meeting of the Conference of Parties (COP) for the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In a span of 23 years from the 1992 Rio Conference and COP21 in 2015, global leaders have met almost annually. What is surprising is the complete silence on the issue of climate-induced human migration.

Any follower of climate change negotiations will be familiar with the much discussed terms of “mitigation” and “adaptation” to cope with climate change. But there is hardly ever any agenda on “migration”. It is worth discussing whether migration can be considered as a failure of adaptation or as a part of adaptation strategy. The UN High Commission on Refugees is yet to consider climate-induced migrants as “climate refugees”. But logically speaking, they do qualify as a new category, besides other forms of refugees resulting from religious or ethnic conflicts or partition of a country.

In India, the UPA-led Central government had announced the National Action Plan on Climate Change (NAPCC) in 2008 with eight targeted missions to be achieved by 2020. Four other missions were added to the list by the NDA government in 2014. None of these 12 missions are focused on dealing with climate-induced human migration. Even the State Level Climate Change Action Plan (SAPCC), developed by 28 out of 29 states (except the newly born Telangana), one does not find any mention of this vital issue.

In reality, thousands of people are forced to migrate after every climate-induced disaster. Unfortunately, neither the state government nor academic institutions have conducted any empirical studies on such human migration, except for some studies carried out by academicians and NGOs post-cyclone Aila in the Indian Sundarbans Delta after 2009 and on migrants from islands facing rising sea levels in the same region before 2009.

Data indicates that such victims face several hardships and an uncertain future. Since most of them are farmers and fishers, they have no option but to work as unskilled labour when they migrate. Ensuring skill development of these vulnerable people is, therefore, the most vital need.

The Delta Vision 2050 document of WWF-India predicts the migration of 1.2 million people from the Indian Sundarbans Delta. It is time to look into these areas and develop an action plan. Globally, if one were to look at the small island nations or the most vulnerable deltas inhabited by millions of people who perhaps had no role in the greenhouse gas emissions that are changing the world’s climate, a much larger picture of probable human misery would emerge. Will the Paris meet then consider this as an agenda item?

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