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Round-up: Displacement in COP26


Women Leaders at the COP26 Summit (Source: Scottish Government)


The Glasgow Pact is now the world’s newest, and perhaps most important, climate change agreement. Born out of the meeting of the parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), this year’s COP26 meeting held all of the usual highs and lows of negotiation and activism, but like the landmark COP21 in Paris, this conference featured significant work and discussions around climate change displacement. While the impact of this work on Canada will continue to develop, CDPI here wants to provide a round-up of major activities at COP26 related to climate displacement.


Voices from small island and developing states were particularly prominent on issues of climate change and mobility. On November 1st, Brianna Fruean, an activist from Samoa and member of the Pacific Climate Warriors Delegation implored global leaders to consider how small islands like Samoa, Tutuila and Tonga might drown without urgent action against rising sea levels:


“If you’re looking for inspiration on this, look no further than the climate leadership of young Pacific people, we are not just victims of this crisis, we have been resilient beacons of hope. Pacific youth have rallied behind the cry, we are not drowning, we are fighting.”


Tuvalu’s foreign affairs minister, Simon Kofe, came next on November 2nd and delivered remarks while standing in the ocean in Funafati, Tuvalu.


“We cannot wait for speeches when the sea is rising around us all the time. Climate mobility must come to the forefront, we must take bold alternative action today to secure tomorrow. He added: “We are sinking, but so is everyone else and no matter if we feel the impacts like in Tuvalu or in a hundred years, we will all still feel the dire effects of this global crisis one day”

On a more technical level, the United Nations High Commission on Refugees (UNCHR) called for increased action and support to avert and minimize and address displacement, and for increased adaptation support in particular for the displaced and host communities. In particular, Andrew Harper, UNHCR’s Special Advisor on Climate Action said:

“We welcome efforts to mitigate emissions, increase financing and support for adaptation and address loss and damage. However, we are concerned that COP 26 has not outlined concrete actions to realize the commitments in these areas which will be essential to protect vulnerable communities around the world and avoid devastating consequences for millions of refugees, displaced and stateless people.”

Harper later added in a tweet that the COP 26 draft text was “completely underwhelming” and that there was no reference to human mobility.


We asked international expert on migration and climate change and former head of Migration, Environment and Climate Change at the International Organization for Migration, Dina Ionesco, to comment on COP 26 discussions on displacement. She said:

“Migrants are mentioned in the formal Glasgow Climate Pact, in line with the Paris Agreement, acknowledging “the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations.” The Decision on the work of the Warsaw Mechanism on Loss and damage recognizes the work of the Task Force on Displacement and highlights in a footnote that human mobility should be considered in the technical workshop to take place in 2022, prior to COP27 and in the actions operationalizing the Santiago Network. These mentions can seem small but they do offer a strong anchorage to all those working on migration and human mobility, to make sure that climate action puts people at its center, and that the rights of migrants are respected.”

Ionesco further noted that “countries most vulnerable to climate change have made their voice strongly heard in Glasgow. Core calls of the most vulnerable nations are strongly reflected in the COP26 outcome, in the Dhaka-Glasgow Declaration of the Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) that clearly highlights migration and displacement dimensions. CVF membership expanded at Glasgow from 48 to 55 nations with a population now of 1.4 billion people.”


Lastly, Ionesco observed innovative and ambitious actions on climate change at the COP. She pointed to a new action plan that C40 Cities and the Mayors Migration Council (MMC) released on climate and migration, along with new $1m investment from German charitable institution Robert Bosch Stiftung that encompasses a wide array of actions at local level.


In addition, the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD), the Platform on Disaster Displacement (PDD) and the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) signed an agreement on a joint project to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse effects of climate change.


Ahead of this year’s COP, Alex Randall, a leading expert on climate-driven migration and displacement, predicted that there would not be much breakthrough around the issue of climate displacement at Glasgow. This is in part because most climate-driven migration and displacement is usually internal, making it difficult to reach international agreements.


Nevertheless, as Randall notes, there are several other global fora where the issue of climate-driven mobility is being discussed. For example, the Platform on Disaster Displacement brings states together to examine the ways in which they can address cross-border disaster displacement.


Important and related are the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, which already commits many states to protecting and respecting the human rights of people displaced internally. It offers a refugee-like status for people who have not crossed a border. Likewise, the Sendai Framework sets out the ways in which governments can reduce the risks created by disasters and touches on displacement.


Randall notes that “it is likely that the solutions will come from a patchwork of agreements and policies rather than one grand global agreement.”


As UNCHR Goodwill Ambassador Emi Mahmoud’s promoted early on in COP26, it is important to consider why the voices of those most directly impacted by climate change are not leading COP discussions. Unless we have more inclusive discussions around climate change and the ways in which it is already impacting communities around the world, we cannot begin to discuss innovative solutions. People on the ground are already fighting climate change with limited resources, they should become the leaders of global discussions on climate change adaptation and mitigation. Including youth activists in COP discussions was an encouraging sign, but future COP meetings will have to become more accessible and inclusive in order to really have impactful change.


Written by CDPI Researcher Azin Emami.

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