The Task Force on Displacement: The pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place

Dr. Sarah Louise Nash

Dr. Sarah Louise Nash is 2016/17 Mercator-IPC Fellow at Istanbul Policy Center, Sabanci University and Associated Postdoctoral Researcher in the research group Climate Change and Security (CLISEC) at the University of Hamburg. Her work focuses on the politics of climate change and human mobility.

Above: Still submerged, nearly six months on from the initial flooding. Vast tracts of land in Pakistan’s Sindh province are still submerged under water, six months on from the extreme monsoon rainfall that forced more than 20 million people from their homes. DFID / Russell Watkins (CC BY 2.0)

At the Paris climate change negotiations in 2015 an important decision was made establishing a Task Force on Displacement. However, the text of the decision was left incredibly vague, with the details left open for further clarification.

The decision clearly establishes an entity specifically mandated to make recommendations on how to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change. What the decision does not tell us is who will be on the task force, how long it will take, how it will be accountable, how it will operate, and, quite bluntly, what a task force actually is.

Since Paris, the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage has been working on developing the Task Force. They have agreed terms of reference and agreed all but one of the members. This blog will give a brief summary of the puzzle pieces that have already fallen into place.

Who will be on the Task Force?

The terms of reference set out that the Task Force will be made up of a maximum of 14 members, with up to 4 members drawn from the Executive Committee, with a balance of Annex 1 and Annex 2 Parties being represented. Two Executive Committee members will co-facilitate the Task Force. Up to 8 technical experts will also be on the Task Force, reflecting regional diversity, with 1 representative from the Adaptation Committee, and 1 from the Least Developed Countries Expert Group. The remaining undefined technical experts can be representatives from UNFCCC NGO constituency groups, representatives from intergovernmental organisations and any other institution agreed for inclusion by the Executive Committee.

UNFCCC deligates listen as Philippines negotiator Yeb Sano speaks at the Bonn Climate Change Conference

Adopt A Negotiator / Sébastien Duyck (CC BY-NC 2.0)

What the decision does not tell us is who will be on the task force, how long it will take, how it will be accountable, how it will operate, and, quite bluntly, what a task force actually is.

According to the latest member list, these technical experts will be drawn from the United Nations Development Programme, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, the International Organization for Migration, the International Labour Organization, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, the Platform on Disaster Displacement, and the Advisory Group on Climate Change and Human Mobility.

How long will it take?

The mandate of the Task Force is to be delivered by the 24th Conference of the Parties of the UNFCCC, which will take place in late 2018. There is the possibility of extension.

How will it be accountable?

The accountability of the Task Force lies quite clearly with the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism, with the Task Force reporting regularly to the Executive Committee through its two Task Force co-facilitators and written reports. Other points in the terms of reference also tie the task force to the Executive Committee: it wrote the terms of reference, as well as nominating the members and having the power to draw in ad hoc technical experts. It also has to approve any in-person meetings of the Task Force and the workplan that the Task Force will prepare.

Accountability does not end with the Executive Committee, as the Warsaw International Mechanism is embedded in larger UNFCCC structures and is also subject to accountability mechanisms. The Task Force will therefore be drawn into the Warsaw International Mechanism’s regular reporting.

A close reading of the terms of reference shows that this Task Force has the potential to be whatever its members make of it …

Arend Kuester. UNFCCC negotiations. (CC BY-NC 2.0)

The choices of membership are fairly conservative, drawing heavily on organisations that already have a strong presence in the UNFCCC and the Executive Committee members. However, this might also be a strength of the Task Force, as it can strengthen the linkages that the Executive Committee has with organisations outside of the climate change negotiations.

So, what is a task force?

A close reading of the terms of reference shows that this Task Force has the potential to be whatever its members make of it, but that this has to take place within the strict parameters set for them by the Executive Committee.

Due to its institutional context, it is unlikely that the Task Force will be particularly radical. The choices of membership are fairly conservative, drawing heavily on organisations that already have a strong presence in the UNFCCC and the Executive Committee members. However, this might also be a strength of the Task Force, as it can strengthen the linkages that the Executive Committee has with organisations outside of the climate change negotiations.

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