Fri, Aug 24, 2018 - Page 9 News List

Safe migration goes hand-in-hand with sustainable environmental management

A global compact on safe migration is a once-in-a-generation opportunity for change, but it and supplementary measures need to be implemented

By Erik Solheim and William Lacy Swing

Illustration: Mountain People

Humanity is on the move. Humans are living in an era of unprecedented mobility of ideas, money and, increasingly, people.

The sheer size of the human population, combined with how it consumes resources, is profoundly reshaping the world. While the “take-make-dispose” economic model has created wealth for hundreds of millions of people in many countries, reducing global poverty significantly, it has also left too many behind.

Crucially, it exposes future generations to immense social, economic and environmental risks. Perhaps the most important risk stems from filling the atmosphere with greenhouse gases at a rate greater than at any time in the past 66 million years.

One billion people alive today are migrants, having moved within or beyond their national borders. They have done so for a variety of complex reasons, including population pressure, a lack of economic opportunities, environmental degradation and new forms of travel.

Combined, these factors are contributing to human displacement and unsafe migration on an unprecedented scale. The levels of both will only rise as the effects of climate change gradually erode millions of people’s livelihoods.

Climate change is fundamentally redrawing the map of where people can live. Food supplies are being disrupted in north Africa’s Sahel region and Central America, while water stress and scarcity are growing worse in north Africa and the Middle East.

For example, Somalia is experiencing more frequent droughts, Iraq is battling more frequent heat waves and unprecedented storms and floods have battered the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico.

As the abnormal becomes the new normal, scarcities, zero-sum competition and mass displacements will become more common.

However, there is good news to report on two fronts.

First, humans are making major strides in building resilience to extreme weather. In the 1970s, Bangladesh lost hundreds of thousands of people to extreme flooding. Today, the fatalities from similar occurrences, while no less tragic, are far fewer in number. Humanity is getting better at coping with disasters.

Second, for the first time in history the international community is coming together to build a framework to manage international migration. Intergovernmental negotiations started in February with the aim of adopting a Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, which the UN General Assembly last month finalized and heads of state are expected to adopt in December at a high-level conference in Marrakesh, Morocco.

The compact promises to provide a sound framework for taking action that addresses climate-driven migration, but now steps must be taken to ensure that it is implemented. It represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity to set in place an internationally-agreed system for managing safe and orderly migration. As such, it has the potential to improve the lives and prospects of tens of millions of people.

Once it is formally adopted, steps are needed to ensure that the new framework maximizes the benefits of international travel and exchange, while also addressing the concerns that many people have with unregulated migration.

Finally, and most important, everyone will have to do everything possible to reduce greenhouse gas emissions drastically. That is the only way to keep the Earth’s temperature within 2?C of preindustrial levels — the threshold at which spiraling feedback loops could trigger runaway climate change.

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