Paris Agreement and Implications for Environmental Migrants


이시은 (Sieun Lee) / Research Officer, International Organization for Migration (IOM)


Peacekeeping - UNAMID
UN Photo – Albert Gonzalez Farran

After long negotiations at COP21 in Paris last year, 195 countries adopted the Paris Agreement which is hailed as “historic, durable and ambitious” in the attempt to tackle the changing climate. The Paris Agreement addresses various elements on mitigation, adaptation, finance, but also importantly, the Agreement and the COP21 decision are milestones for “migrants” as the two acknowledge the impact of climate change on migrants.

The Preamble of the Paris Agreement acknowledges that “climate change is a common concern of humankind” and that “parties should, when taking action to address climate change, respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity”.

In addition, the Paragraph 50 of the COP Decision on Loss and Damage calls for “integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change.”

This is not the first time that migrants appeared in the international climate change agreements, as migration was mentioned in the 2010 Cancun Decision (paragraph 14(f)) and subsequently in the 2012 Doha Decision on Loss and Damage. Since then, human mobility did not appear again in the COP decisions however, human mobility and its link to environmental change including climate change gained greater importance and attention in various international forums, in academia and media. In particular, research on environmental migration expanded greatly since 2012 providing evidence for governments and policy makers to include migration in climate change policies, and vice versa.

The inclusion of migrants in the Paris Agreement gives a human face to the climate change debate. While curbing greenhouse gas emissions are important and the key topic in the climate change negotiations, it is important to remember that discussions on finance and technologies to reduce GHG emissions and adaptation measures are meant to benefit the people who are impacted by climate change. More emphasis needs to be placed on the migrants themselves, their families and the communities, on understanding their strategies, the challenges they face, and mobility options that are available to them. The Paris Agreement is meaningful and symbolic as it opens doors for global action on migration linked to climate change and gives impetus to governments to take action on “environmental migration” at all levels: global, regional and national.

There are still some challenges in addressing environmental migration. Historically, individuals and communities have moved to adapt to changing environmental conditions. Yet, there is no internationally agreed definition on environmental migrants or migration. Environmental and climatic factors not being the sole driver of migration as migrants often move for economic reasons, is stated as one difficulty in using such terminology, but also the complexity of the phenomenon such as whether such movement could be considered as forced or voluntary adds to the difficulty on providing a definition.  Others state the lack of accurate data on how many people will be moving due to the changing climate.

Despite the lack of international legal definition or global data, this should not impede governments from taking action as human mobility may take different shapes and forms in the face of diverse environmental conditions and the varied impacts of climate change on a particular country and/or region. Also, the number of environmental migrants would depend on the mitigation and adaptation measures put in place which would prevent people who are forced to move in the future. More importantly, acknowledging the current or potential impact of climatic stressors on populations, assessing their vulnerabilities and conditions, and working across ministries and sectors to address the cross-cutting issue at hand should be the priority.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is committed to contribute to ambitious climate action and to supporting states and societies to adapt to existing and future climate change challenges. In this regard, IOM has been building the capacity of states on migration, environment and climate change since 2012 through regional and national training workshops and has trained over 200 government officials of 38 countries to date. IOM will continue this key initiative to build the capacity of policy makers and practitioners, in order to factor migration into environmental and development policies, as well as climate change adaptation strategies, through the first-ever training manual on migration, environment and climate change to be published in the summer of 2016.


For more information on human mobility at the UNFCCC COP21, see 


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