ADB breaks important ground on climate-induced migration

A family in the Philippines whose home was wiped out by Typhoon Ketsana. Photo by: Ace Reston / CC BY-NC-SA

The global development community is just beginning to discover the extent to which climate change is a driver of displacement and migration across the world. According to the Internal Displacement and Monitoring Center, more than 42 million people were displaced in Asia and the Pacific since January 2010, and many of these individuals were forced to move by storms, floods, or other weather-related events or natural hazards. In the same report, IDMC reveals that the Asia-Pacific region accounted for 77 percent to 87 percent of the total number of people displaced worldwide from 2008-2010.

In 2010, the Asian Development Bank began researching the interrelationship between climate change and migration to identify policy and other responses to environment events on human mobility within the Asia-Pacific region. The result of an extensive ADB-financed technical assistance project was a report titled, “Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific,” which represents the global development community’s first effort to shed light on how climate change will impact migration patterns in the region and identify appropriate policy and development interventions that hold genuine potential to address the issue.

According to ADB, three primary factors explain why Asia-Pacific finds itself at the center of the discussion on climate-induced migration:

  1. It is the region most affected by disasters, which is a result of the high frequency of extreme climatic events, the large populations living in high-risk zones, and their limited ability to reduce their vulnerability. This leads to the displacement of millions of people every year, a trend that will be further reinforced by both climate change and population growth.

  2. The region is the most populous in the world, with mass movements of people spurred by growing inequalities and regional integration.

  3. Climate change is expected to take the heaviest toll in the region, exacerbating current environmental problems and stimulating a variety of economic, social and political challenges.

Among the most important and distinct contributions of the ADB report is how climate-induced migration is assessed as part of global migration dynamics. As ADB states, “Migration typically has multiple causes, and environmental factors are intertwined with other social and economic factors, which themselves can be influenced by environmental changes.” With these realities taken into account, ADB recommends addressing the issue of climate-induced migration as part of the broader development context and agenda.

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Key ADB findings

  • Asia and the Pacific’s geographical diversity contributes largely to the region’s vulnerability. From areas prone to coastal and riparian flooding to extremely arid areas, the kinds of environmental disasters which occur vary as much as its landscape.

  • International migration to and from Asia and the Pacific has consistently increased over the past few decades leading to higher levels of mobility within and between nations through the establishment of links and networks from one community to another.

  • Migration is mostly characterized by a shift from rural to urban areas, increasing population density and giving rise to mega cities commonly situated in low-lying coastal areas which are highly vulnerable.

  • High reliance on agriculture as a source of income in several Asian and Pacific countries continue to lead to more climate-induced migration as environmental degradation takes place.

  • Underfunding for resettlement programs only lead to more displacement as migrants who have relocated find themselves in worse conditions compared to their original, now untenable, locations.

  • There exists a lack of proper governance leading to scattered efforts which fail to address the problem of climate-induced migration.

ADB recommendations

Promote adaptation and broader development aims

  • Carry out national assessments of natural disaster risk and systematically account for disaster losses to improve understanding of investment needs for disaster risk management.

  • Bolster disaster risk management systems, particularly at the community level; improve accuracy of disaster early warning systems; and improve design and awareness of post-disaster sheltering plans.

  • Provide social protection and income-earning opportunities for those who remain behind in areas affected by environmental change (e.g., community-driven development initiatives, skills training, alternative livelihood programs).

  • Invest in sustainable infrastructure and basic services in migrant-receiving cities, utilize vulnerability mapping to guide future settlement planning, and engage local communities in construction of storm-resistant homes.

  • Systematically include discussion of climate-induced migration in policy deliberations on adaptation and in updating national adaptation programs of action.

Improve the condition of migrants

  • Provide migrants with access to the same basic services as current residents (education, health, water, and sanitation).

  • Actively promote a positive image of migrants to facilitate their integration into receiving communities.

  • Apply internationally recognized standards and principles on human mobility, as well as good practice on involuntary resettlement.

  • Codify and enforce land ownership, and take action against land grabbing.

Increase knowledge and awareness of climate-induced migration

  • Systematically collect sex-disaggregated data on internal and cross-border migration flows.

  • Take steps to ensure that censuses are conducted thoroughly and include marginalized populations.

  • Support policy-relevant research on climate-induced migration, the establishment of an Asia-Pacific Migration and Environment Network of researchers, and interaction between researchers and policy makers.

  • Undertake longitudinal studies to capture long-term migration patterns.

  • Promote youth educational and cultural exchanges between areas highly exposed to climate change and more climate-resilient areas.

Strengthen international cooperation

  • Negotiate bilateral and sub-regional agreements to enhance freedom of movement (e.g., visa free ASEAN) and extend mutual recognition of academic and skills qualifications.

  • Expand seasonal, short-term, or more permanent labor migration that serves the interests of both source and destination countries, as well as migrant workers (also involve countries outside the region).

  • Step up collaboration among intergovernmental organizations in a position to address climate-induced migration.

Finance responses to climate-induced migration

  • Support the International Organization for Migration’s (IOM) Development Fund and new Migration Emergency Funding Mechanism, as well as the United Nations Central Emergency Response Fund, and the Green Climate Fund.

  • For developing country governments, factor in migration-related spending needs into development plans, poverty reduction strategies, and National Adaptation Programs of Action.

  • Encourage active private sector provision of insurance and risk management tools, and provide incentives for people to live in areas at less risk of extreme environmental events.

  • Create a regulatory framework that encourages competition and service provision that reduces the cost of sending remittances.

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About the author

  • Ezekiel Carlo Orlina

    Ezekiel is a Senior Development Analyst and Team Leader at Devex. His primary role is monitoring and reporting on project opportunities and trends of leading multilateral and bilateral donor agencies. A graduate of Ateneo de Manila University with a degree in Political Science, Ezekiel has extensive global development research experience having also worked at the World Youth Alliance, Asia and the Pacific (WYAAP).