Although the 1992 UN Framework Convention on Climate Change points that Parties have common but differentiated responsibilities on mitigating the effects of climate change, the harsh truth is that Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are suffering disproportionately from those effects, despite contributing less than 1 per cent total greenhouse gas emissions. Disasters due to natural hazards, many of which are exacerbated by climate change and which are increasing in frequency and intensity, have taken a heavy toll in the Caribbean. In 2017, the Atlantic Hurricane season displaced over 3 million people in a month.
The recently released Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Special Report projects that at 1.5°C, SIDS will face increased incidents of internal migration and displacement, freshwater stress and even more worrisome increased aridity, coastal flooding and wave run-up that might leave several atoll islands uninhabitable. In this regard, Dr. Douglas Slater, Assistant Secretary General at the CARICOM Secretariat, commented
“We [Caricom] have to keep sounding our small but powerful voices because climate change is existential to us.”
Caribbean States have launched an exemplary range of adaptation measures such as early warning systems, insurance funds, infrastructure works, and resilience building as is the case in Dominica. However, it remains important to address the links between climate change, vulnerability, displacements and the increased potential risks faced by SIDS to ensure environmental-induced migration is not equated with crisis, but with adaptation.
In this line, migration governance efforts can help tackle the effects of climate change more effectively by:
1. Integrating human mobility in national disaster risk management, national adaptation plans and policies to minimize forced migration and displacement. For example, Cuba has implemented an effective emergency preparedness and disaster response centered around community mobilization and preparedness. According to the 2018 Global Report on Internal Displacement, before and during Hurricane Irma, 1.7 million people were evacuated, demonstrating that displacement need not always be a negative outcome but can also enhance disaster reduction. Approaching crises from a human mobility aspect highlights the necessity to protect vulnerable populations from trafficking in persons and other human rights violations.
2. Promoting cooperation with neighboring and other relevant countries to prepare for early warning, contingency planning, stockpiling, coordination mechanisms, evacuation planning, border management, reception and assistance arrangements to facilitate safe and orderly migration and enhance capacity response to cross-border disaster displacement, return and reintegration.
3. Developing bilateral and multilateral migration agreements for the involvement of migrants and diaspora members in labour opportunities to provide financial and human resources to their home countries. As stated by IOM’s Migration Crisis Operational Framework, diaspora may be keen on participating and even willing to return in support of transition and recovery processes. The World Bank adds that lowering transactions fees and facilitating remittances can tap into the potential of diasporas for disaster relief and recovery efforts. An example of such agreement could be the facilitation of temporary labour migration schemes of qualified workers to assist in the reconstruction efforts of post crisis environments. For instance, IOM’s hurricane response in Dominica included the training of 71 individuals in basic carpentry as well as the employment of 36 carpenters, four of which were migrant workers from Trinidad and Tobago.
4. Strengthening sub regional approaches, cooperation and building the capacities of all the countries involved is essential to promote reliance, resilience and sustainable development as well as humanitarian assistance and human rights protection of affected populations wherever they are located across the region.
5. Planning relocation is perceived as a key adaptation initiative in many countries due to the rise of sea level and flooding. As highlighted by the World Bank it is important to contemplate this strategy as a long term and even last resort solution considering that adaptation “in place” has its limits as certain landscapes become unviable for sustained and dignified livelihoods.
6. Enabling migration as an adaptation strategy to make livelihoods less climate-dependent by creating sensitive and inclusive incentives or “pulls” away from climate sensitive locations and sectors. In this regard, the World Bank suggests the creation of resilient-economy transitions and diversification. This includes the shift to alternate job opportunities, the training of potential migrants, integration efforts (particularly in urban areas), and identifying climate-resilient labour markets.
Migration is a complex phenomenon with often multiple drivers, yet environmental-induced migration remains a reality and is expected to increase due to the effects of climate change. Migration governance measures in regards to human mobility and the rights of migrants and potential migrants should be contemplated as part of wholistic adaptation strategies, especially as States, particularly those in the Caribbean region, continue stepping up climate ambition.