The Asian Development Bank’s report Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific sets out change the focus of the debate. Historically, analysis has focused on the humanitarian and protection concerns of displacement linked to climate change. The ADB want to focus on how development could help people stay where they are, or move in safety to lower risk areas before they are forced to.
The development policies that the report recommends are focused on economic growth, using financial markets to manage risk and creating new areas of employment. These policies will, they argue, do two things. First, by creating economic growth they will improve people’s economic security, helping people stay where they are. Second, creating jobs and economic growth will create opportunities for people to move and find work in lower-risk places. In line with ADB’s thinking on development, the policies it places most emphasis on are about economic growth and using markets and insurance to address climate related migration.
Consequently much analysis is given to migration policies that help people move and find work. The hope being that making it easier to move in order to work, will allow people to move out of high-risk areas and find work in new lower-risk areas. The report looks in depth at bi-lateral agreements between Asian and Pacific countries that allow seasonal and temporary work. When slow onset environmental change degrades livelihoods these kinds of policies mean people can diversify household income. One household member could move to find work, some members could find seasonal work abroad or the entire household could migrate. Policy options for non labour migration and protection receive less attention. For example, the Nansen Principle are explained, but little attention is given to how the process might be moved forward. Similarly, the report offers no analysis of how recent commitments made at UN climate change negotiations could be strengthened in the future. It gives limited attention to protecting the rights of people who are forced to move by sudden onset events, in spite of the fact that the report places a lot of emphasis on the increasing frequency and intensity of natural hazards in Asia and the Pacific.
The report looks in some depth at a number of financial mechanisms that create incentives for people to move and markets to manage the risk of natural hazards. For example, the report argues that properly priced insurance could provide an incentive for people to move from high to low risk areas. Insurance prices will rise as an area becomes increasingly exposed to natural hazards. People will then have the choice to stay and pay a higher premiums or move to lower risk areas where insurance is cheaper. However, this does also raise the possibility that the poorest people may simply remain, uninsured in high-risk areas, further increasing their vulnerability. The report is also optimistic about new financial instruments that could help provide insurance to increasingly vulnerable areas. Catastrophe Bonds could provide insurance in the face of increasing natural hazards, especially to growing mega-cities. Weather derivatives could help insure crop losses in the face of slow onset disasters.
It is certainly important to begin looking at how development policies can help people who are facing migration decisions that may have an environmental element. The ADB’s focus on economic growth as the primary engine of development is perhaps not surprising, however there are many other development policies that are less focused on economic growth but could still provide real help to people who want to stay and adapt to environmental change, or to move. A focus on development does not mean that the need for proper legal protection for people who move in the context of environmental change has become any less urgent.
Blog author: Alex Randall. All views expressed are the authors own