Report summary: Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific

UKCCMC report summaries synthesise key documents on the topic of climate change and migration. They do not intend to provide analysis. For analysis on current issues and policy see the Blog section of this website. 


Summary: Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific, Asian Development Bank (2012)

  • New mapping shows areas of high and multiple risk . For example the west coast of Vietnam which is at risk of coastal flooding, river flooding and water stress and southern India which is at risk of both water stress and riparian flooding. In Vietnam exposure to these risks is likely to impact farming communities and possibly increase the existing rural to urban migration trend. Similarly, in India the impact of water stress in agricultural areas will add to the rural-urban trend.
  • Migration in the context of climate change should be seen as a development issue. Many of the solutions lie in economic development policies such as job creation, disaster risk management, urban infrastructure planning and insurance.
  • Bilateral agreements that allow people at risk to move and work legally in other countries or lower risk locations should be given more attention. For example the Philippines has over 50 agreements with other countries allowing its citizens to work abroad, New Zealand’s Recognised Seasonal Employer programme opens up seasonal work options for people from across the Pacific and Asia.
  • There are gaps in the protection framework for people displaced.  Existing frameworks need to be strengthened and new “soft law” options such as the Nansen principles and the Colombo Process should be pursued to fill protection gaps.
  • Financing migration linked to climate change could take place through a) existing adaptation funding mechanisms being used to fund migration as adaptation projects b) new financial products such as Catastrophe Bonds and Weather Derivatives. Correctly priced insurance can encourage people to move from higher to lower risk areas.

Migration in the context of climate change in Asia and the Pacific must be understood in relation to existing migratory patterns. Some common patterns are revealed across the continent:

  • Mobility has increased. Relocating is now an option for most of the population of Asia and the Pacific region.
  • The mobility of women has increased as the demand for traditionally male work in construction has declined and the demand for traditionally female roles in care work and domestic help has increased.
  • Rural to urban migration is likely to continue, especially into mega-cities
  • Many countries are highly dependent on remittances.

Exposure to climate change impacts and vulnerability vary across the region, however the region is currently the most prone to natural hazards. Climate change is expected to increase both the number and intensity of rapid onset disasters such as floods, storms and heat waves. Several areas are also prone to slow onset events, or a combination the two. The report uses new mapping that overlays several natural hazards to highlight “hot spots”. The maps are designed to show risk, not areas that people are expected to migrate out of. The report explores in some detail the specific climate change impacts of each sub region and the likely affect this might have on migration. It is also clear that migration may be out of areas of high risk into areas of even higher, or different risks. For example:

  • China: in the upper reaches of Yantze soil degradation, drought and desertification could force rural farmers towards east-coast cities. Many of these cities are increasingly susceptible to flooding and inundation. Existing rural to urban migration has caused large informal housing settlements that are particularly vulnerable.
  • Thailand: a shift in rainfall from north to south, and changes in the timing and amount of rain during monsoons will affect the viability of rice farming. This may result in people moving in order to continue farming rice, or moving into cities like Bangkok. However sea level rise, riverine flooding and storm surge make the low lying areas of Bangkok (where newly arrived migrants tend to settle) especially risky.
  • India: floods, loss of agricultural land and water stress are increasingly playing a part in rural to urban migration decisions. Much of this migration is into coastal mega-cities. Cities along India’s western seaboard are particularly vulnerable to sea level rise and storm surge.

Making climate change and migration a development issue

Resilience needs to be strengthened to protect people who move in their new location and also to protect people who stay:

  • Social protection programmes. Such policies should aim to increase income earning opportunities meaning people can afford to move if they want, or be more financially secure if they stay. For example in India a livelihood security programme guarantees rural works 100 days of employment a year creating a financial safety net.
  • Disaster Risk Management. Important factors in DRM that are specific challenges for the Asia / Pacific region are making DRM a priority within national institutions and ensuring that appropriate levels of education and training amongst the people tasked with implanting it. Several issues within DRM are particularly important to Asia / Pacific, including well designed temporary shelter plans in response to rapid onset events and insurance against slow onset hazards.
  • Better urban planning is needed. As people move from rural locations to mega-cities they often settle in slums. This puts new arrivals at high risk from disease related to poor sanitation and population density, and often at risk from other climate related hazards.
  • Poverty reduction also builds resilience against environmental change. Key policies should include clarifying land ownership and providing security of tenure. National programmes to stimulate employment in new areas are also vital.

International Cooperation

Protection:
The gaps in the international protection framework for people migrating in the context of climate change will eventually cause problems. However several existing frameworks that could provide protection are currently not being used. “…the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement or the Inter-agency Standing Committee Operational Guidelines on the Protection of Persons in Situations of Natural Disasters—are neither widely known nor implemented. Greater efforts should be made to familiarise national governments with these useful guidelines and their relevance to environmental migration.” The soft-law approach of the Nansen principles is a positive move forward. Some regions have draft agreements to address the protection of migrants in general. For example the Kampala Convention (Africa) and Carthegena Declaration include sections to address environmental migration. Asia and the Pacific currently has nothing similar.

Bilateral agreements:
Several countries have existing bilateral agreements that could help manage new migratory needs. None are specifically designed to address environmental migration however they could be used or extended to respond to this new need.  For example the Philippines has signed 56 agreements with countries allowing various kinds of legal migration. The government also provides “pre departure seminars” and provides support from its embassies in destination countries. Australia and New Zealand both have seasonal worker programmes that allow migrant workers to stay legally for seasonal agricultural work. China may (depending on the outcome of several court cases) offer residence to migrant workers who have been in the Hong Kong SAR for more than seven years.

National responses

People in many Asian and Pacific countries find it difficult to move internally because they do not have the correct documents. These regulations either need to be relaxed or proper documents need to be provided systematically to allow people to move within their own country more freely. Some countries have internal migration policies specifically responding to natural hazards. Vietnam actively encourages people to move out of disaster prone areas.

Funding climate induced migration

The costs of climate induced migration are complex. The report looks in some detail at the uncertainty of such costs and how to predict them. The report highlights several finance mechanisms that could help fund migration in response to climate change:

  • In 2011, the IOM member states established the Global Migration Emergency Funding Mechanism. The IOM is currently seeking $30M in contributions. Although the fund was established to address movements resulting from unrest in north Africa the mechanism could eventually be used to fund migration in the context of rapid onset events in Asia.
  • Catastrophe Bonds are financial products where an investor receives a dividend if a natural disaster does not occur but looses all or most of their capital investment in the event of a disaster. This could provide disaster insurance especially to mega-cities.
  • Weather derivatives are financial products that could provide insurance against certain weather patterns. The owner of the derivative would receive a dividend while weather patterns remain within certain bounds, but would have to pay out when, for example, rain fall dropped below a certain level.
  • Several climate change adaptation funds exist that could conceivably provide finance for migration as adaptation projects. Most of these funds are financed by annex 1 countries and pay for projects that are part of developing country NAPAs. At the moment very little emphasis is placed on migration as adaptation projects. Paragraph 14(f) of the Cancun Adaptation Framework opens up the possibility of money from the Green Climate Fund being spent on migration projects, however making 14(f) operational remains a challenge for future COP negotiations.
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