Building Capacities for Proactive Policymaking on Environmental Migration

Given the multidimensionality of environmental migration, achieving coherent policies is a particular challenge. Environmental migration touches on broader development policy, emergency preparedness and response, human security, and urban and landuse planning, to name a few. Governments require an adequate evidence base; coherent policy, legal and institutional frameworks; and stronger technical and operational capacities to effectively address environmental migration.

It is not yet too late to act: there is a need to move from reactive to proactive, forward-looking approaches to migration, climate change and the environment. Humanitarian responses to natural disasters need to be reinforced to limit as much as possible mass or forced migration and its negative impacts. At the same time, emergency response and preparedness should increasingly be linked to sustainable development and climate change adaptation, with a focus on reducing vulnerabilities and building resilient livelihoods. Human mobility is an important factor in each of these components. Migration should be planned for as a viable option that can be chosen in safety, dignity and security in coping with environmental pressures.


Examples of Policy Approaches

  • Effective early warning systems, contingency planning, well-informed populations, and ready shelter and humanitarian assistance are crucial for improved disaster preparedness and mitigating forced migration. Capacities and contingencies need to be in place to respond to the immediate and most basic needs of displaced populations in terms of shelter, food, sanitation and medical attention. Furthermore, a rights-based approach to disaster response also means making adequate provisions for the most vulnerable groups and taking account of special vulnerability factors such as gender, age, ethnicity, and health (including HIV/AIDS).
  • In expectation of the fact that climate change will increase the incidence of sudden and slow-onset disasters, disaster risk reduction strategies, with strong emphasis on sustainable development, are key in reducing forced migration and stabilizing populations in areas affected by degradation or disaster.
  • Environmental impact assessments should be mainstreamed into camp set-up, maintenance and closure operations to avoid environmental degradation in areas receiving displaced populations.
  • Granting permission for temporary stay or temporary protection for those displaced across international borders by natural disasters is already practiced in a restricted and ad hoc fashion. A more systematic approach to temporary protection for environmental migrants would be worth exploring. Where return is feasible, bilateral repatriation or readmission agreements can be useful.
  • Bilateral agreements could be used to facilitate temporary and circular labour migration schemes with environmentally vulnerable communities, particularly at less advanced stages of environmental degradation.
  • Urban planning needs to account for the increased rural-to-urban migration driven by environmental factors in the provision for and integration of migrants.
  • Development policies aimed at enhancing the sustainability of livelihoods should not only factor in climate change considerations and "climate-proof" programmes accordingly, but should also integrate migration as a potential outcome or coping option into the assistance rendered to communities affected or expected to be affected in the future by environmental degradation and/or natural disasters. In particular, national poverty reduction strategies, development plans or climate change adaptation policies need to take greater account of migration and its potential benefits.  
  • Where areas are expected to become uninhabitable, relocation schemes may need to be introduced gradually. Early planning is crucial and it is important that affected communities be consulted at all stages of the process. Past examples of relocation and their successes and failures can provide important lessons.      

Policy Dialogue

IOM is dedicated to fostering dialogue between all relevant actors on a subject to maximize understanding and enhance effective cooperation.

Selected policy dialogue initiatives