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FEATURE: Integrating climate migration into Latin American regional forums


by: Jesús Marco Gamero Rus, member of the Sociology of Climate Change and Sustainable Development Research Group of Carlos III University from Madrid.

Human displacement and the impacts of climate change are closely linked issues. Recognising the relationship between them is essential when formulating a political strategy. A joined up response is necessary, one which includes the state and regional political structures, as well as civil society and other stakeholders.

The Global Climate Agenda reinforces the understanding of the problem

As mentioned previously, the climate agenda is increasingly considering the problem of climate displacement. In addition to the references in the IPCC’s Fourth Assessment Report and the Cancun Adaptation Framework, migration is mentioned in the decision on Loss and Damage that was agreed at COP18 in December 2012:

7. Acknowledges  the  further  work  to  advance  the  understanding of  and  expertise  on loss and damage, which includes, inter alia, the following:

(vi) How   impacts   of   climate   change   are   affecting   patterns   of   migration, displacement and human mobility;

The launch of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s Fifth Assessment Report during the second half of 2013 should be a turning point in the way that human societies and their institutions face the reality of climate change. In this regard, the IPCC’s outline integrates in more detail than the previous report the issue of migration by including it in the Working Group II on Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability, both in the section “Landscape and interregional connections” in Chapter 9 on “Rural Areas”, as well as in a specific section in Chapter 12 on “Human Security”.

Bridging the gap between research and political action in Latin America

In Latin America we also find references to climate and environmental migration in various agencies’ reports and documents. The UN Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) has made reference to migration in a generic way in its last reports of 2010  and 2011 on the economics of climate change in Central America. Similarly, the research agenda on climate change proposed by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) considers in various sections migration as one of the most obvious responses to climate change.

However, Latin-American civil society forums have paid more attention to climate migration, particularly the MERCOSUR Social Summits. Recommendations were made during the MERCOSUR Social Summit in June 2010 in which the Commission on Climate Change, Environment and Sustainable Development, under the workshop on Climate Change and Poverty, declared their support to local agricultural practices in order to reduce migration to urban centers, and citing migration as a major factor when proposing models of self-sustainable cities. In addition, a specific call was made with the aim to promote legal systems that protect environmental migrants. This previous work resulted in a more specific text for the Social Summit in Foz do Iguaçu in December 2010.

Finally, an interesting document written from different perspectives surrounding the situation of climate migrants, is the special issue on Climate Change, Migration and Human Rights of the Bulletin on Migration Policies and Human Rights “Entre Tierras”  that was written for the Rio +20 in June 2012 and the parallel Peoples’ Summit for Social and Environmental Justice in defense of the Commons.

These examples can be useful to frame the issue within the current regional policy frameworks that take place in Latin America. The essential efforts of civil society should also be taken into account and the need to implement an approach based on social justice and human rights.

Discussing migration caused by the environment and climate change in Latin America, as climatic factors gain more and more importance, must also go through an analysis of other social, economic, political and environmental issues as they are the generators of inequality in the continent. This also means discussing people who have been displaced from their lands by guerrillas and violent conflict, by expanding drug plantations, deforestation and the destruction of forests, or the uncontrolled exploitation of natural resources, among others factors.

Setting the Agenda for 2013

In 2013, both regional and global meetings, together with the work of different organizations, can positively act to introduce climate migration into political agendas.

The European Union – Community of Latin American and Caribbean States Summit to be held in Santiago de Chile on 26th and 27thJanuary aims to discuss an “Alliance for Sustainable Development to Promote Investments of Social and Environmental Quality”. The Summit should serve to reinforce Point 4 on migration of the Madrid Plan of Action of 2010 and introduce the climate factor as a key aspect.

The Regional Conference on Migration (RCM) or Puebla Process, identified in the document summary of their 15 years of work in 2011, the need to link migration with other factors such as climate change. The introduction of this concept in future agendas should be expected.

The South American Conference on Migration and the South American Observatory on Migration (CSM-OSUMI) has so far had timid approaches to the issue and the impact of climate change on migration in the subcontinent. The XIII Conference to be held this year could serve as a stimulus to work in this respect.

The Organization of American States, divide their focus on Climate Change and Migration in two different areas which requires, obviously, more work and internal debate within the organization in order to reach a coherent approach.

Finally, 2013 will be a milestone in terms of the global work that is being developed in the field of migration. The High Level Dialogue on Migration and Development to be held during the 68th UN General Assembly should have among its most important sections one on “Migration and Environmental Change “. The regional preparatory meeting to be held in Chile in May/June should also serve to raise awareness of the issue in the continent.

2013 must be the year for a renewed commitment with the global climate agenda. This will also facilitate a wider approach to the increasing reality that links the impacts of climate change with human displacement. This has to be recognized and answered both in regional political forums, as well as other global meetings that will be held this year. Organizations working in different fields and with different views must work with this goal in mind.

Post originally published on Intercambio Climatico

Image credit: Latin American Climate Platform 

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