Connecting the spots

Notes on migration and environment from a geographical perspective

Sarah Louise Nash

Sarah Louise Nash

Sarah Louise Nash is a 2016/17 Mercator-IPC fellow at the Istanbul Policy Center, Sabanci University and associated postdoctoral researcher with the research group Climate Change and Security (CLISEC), University of Hamburg. She holds a PhD in Political Science from the University of Hamburg, with a thesis on policymaking on climate change and migration between 2010 and 2015. Sarah tweets at @sarah_wien.

Mar 21st 2017 by Sarah Louise Nash

The Devil’s in the Detail: Policymaking on Climate Change and Human Mobilities Post-Paris

The vast chambers of international climate change negotiations make for good photo-ops; global leaders beaming and proclaiming that a great step has been taken towards combatting climate change; weary negotiators applauding the latest decisions with a combined sense of achievement and relief that negotiations didn’t crumble and fall apart. These moments are sexy, climate change is visibly an issue of high-politics and the world is watching.

However, these moments, however prominent and ground-breaking they are portrayed as being, are not necessarily the defining moments of policy development. Decisions made during international climate change negotiations set out the broad strokes of global climate change policy. It is between the negotiations, in meetings of the many workstreams of the overarching international convention, in the small negotiation hall, in the secretariat building in Bonn, in teleconferences, and in email communication, that the broad strokes are defined and the rule books for implementing high-profile decisions are thrashed out. These processes, more mundane and less photogenic, are where defining moments of policy development are made, quietly and meticulously. 

An archetype for this work pattern is the issue area of human mobility in the context of climate change. Work completed under the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage (WIM) fills the rather empty provisions in high-level decisions with content and meaning. In both 2010 and 2012, high-level decisions made in Cancun and Doha contained provisions acknowledging the need for more understanding of human mobilities in the context of climate change. At the Paris climate change negotiations in December 2015, a task force was established to “develop recommendations for integrated approaches to avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change”. Viewed in isolation, these decisions from Cancun, Doha, and even Paris mean very little. However, the WIM was created in 2013 to advance work on loss and damage and its initial two-year workplan contained actions to enhance understanding and expertise on “how the impacts of climate change are affecting patterns of migration, displacement and human mobility”, in wording reminiscent of the Doha provision. Establishing the task force on displacement (an undertaking that includes writing terms of reference for the task force on displacement and inviting task force members) has also been delegated to the WIM. It is therefore to the smaller negotiating hall and to the circa quarterly meetings of the WIM’s Executive Committee that we need to look to monitor human mobility in climate change negotiations.

This week the Executive Committee of the WIM is meeting in Bonn. The greatest focus in Bonn is likely to be on advancing development of the five-year rolling workplan of the Executive Committee, which replaces the expired initial two-year workplan. The indicative framework for the five-year workplan was approved in 2016, however it still lacks detail, consisting of four indicative strategic workstreams and a number of placeholders for further topics. “Migration, displacement and human mobility, including the task force on displacement” is included as an indicative strategic workstream; however it is not clear what kind of activities this might entail. The forthcoming debates in Bonn are therefore highly relevant for work on human mobility and could give important indications as to what directions work on human mobility carried out by the UNFCCC (specifically the WIM) will take.

Keeping an eagle eye on this work on human mobility that is being carried out by the WIM is an important exercise in checks and balances, preventing a dearth of oversight on this important area of work. From the perspective of researchers or civil society engaging with migration and climate change, being up-to-date with the activities of the WIM will also make more meaningful engagement with UNFCCC processes and more effective submissions on the subject of human mobility possible.

Moving away from the purely pragmatic, there are other compelling reasons for monitoring and analyzing the work of the WIM and its Executive Committee. Discussions playing out in the context of the WIM, where cutting-edge research on human mobilities is being shared and ideas are being allowed to germinate, can function as a litmus test for policymaking on human mobilities in a broader context. We can gain insights into how human mobilities are being perceived and understood and what policy actions are possible and actionable in a particular political context. It is therefore worth the trouble to make the effort to untangle the acronyms, workstreams, and workplans of the UNFCCC and to give the small negotiating hall, and the details thrashed out in the meetings held there, the attention they deserve.

A policy brief designed specifically for academics who want to know more about human mobility in the context of the Warsaw International Mechanism on Loss and Damage is available here.


Images: Bonn Climate Change Conference - October 2014, courtesy Flickr user UNclimatechange / COP22 in Marrakesh, courtesy Flickr user ZMEScience.