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Migration, environment and climate change: Responding via climate change adaptation policy

This paper provides policymakers working in climate change adaptation policy with entry points for integrating responses to migration into their work.
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Over the last decade, experts, organisations and institutions working on environmental migration and interrelated policy areas have made significant progress in developing evidence-based recommendations for addressing mobility in the context of environmental impacts.

Applying a human mobility lens to the design and implementation of climate change adaptation measures can provide a more complete picture of their potential impact. It would also ultimately help to ensure that these adaptation measures protect people, communities and the environment and functioning ecosystems more effectively.

This paper provides climate change adaptation policymakers with entry points for integrating responses to migration into their work. It offers preliminary conclusions about how policy can support environmental migrants, in the context of recent developments in international climate policy and finance, as well as other international processes, such as the Global Compact for Migration, the Sustainable Development Goals, and the Platform on Disaster Displacement (formerly known as the Nansen Initiative). * This publication is the third of three papers that are part of the project “Environmental degradation, climate change and migration: Global review of research and forecasts” on behalf of the German Environment Agency. It can be accessed through this link. *Links the first two reports Migration, environment and climate change: Literature review and Migration, environment and climate change: Impacts can be found at the end.

Responding to environmental migration within international climate policy

This section examines the guidance prepared for key UNFCCC processes related to human mobility by:

  • Examining the recommendations developed by the Task Force on Displacement, a group created under the Paris Agreement to help avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change.
  • Analysing to what extent human mobility in the context of climate change is already addressed in countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs).
  • Assessing the climate finance portfolios of these countries.
  • Examining guidance and good practices for integrating human mobility into National Adaptation Plans (NAPs).

The analysis of NDCs that already refer to environmental migration and of programmes and projects that address this issue showed that increased awareness of the interlinkages between environmental migration and climate change is already affecting priorities for action in climate change policy. Although this often still happens at a general level (i.e. by referring to the issue as an overall challenge to be addressed), some countries have placed a clear focus on relocating vulnerable populations to areas less exposed to hazards.

Countries mentioning migration either in general or as a priority issue in their NDCs have not necessarily matched these priorities with specific programmes or projects. There are only a few examples of programmes or projects in countries’ international climate finance portfolios which address migration in the context of climate change. These are mainly in the early phases of implementation.

NAPs provide a useful framework for developing more integrated responses to the nexus between human mobility and environmental changes. However, at this point, it is also important to note that NDCs and NAPs only form part of countries’s approach to tackling the environment-migration nexus.

Responding to environmental migration beyond climate policy

In recent years, there have been important developments at the international level in fields related to human mobility in the context of climate change. Many new frameworks and processes have been established. This chapter aims to provide an overview of the current landscape by:

  • Drawing on the recent mapping exercises undertaken on behalf of the Task Force on Displacement.
  • Examining three important frameworks at the international level in more detail: The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, the Platform for Disaster Displacement, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

Climate change adaptation, migration, DRR, and sustainable development policies can all contribute to increasing the resilience of vulnerable populations to climate change impacts. There are also significant advantages to better integrating these policy areas to develop more comprehensive responses to climate change risks.

Within climate change adaptation policy, National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) provide a framework for setting priorities for adaptation that chime with internationally agreed priorities (such as those set out in the Global Compact for Migration, the Nansen Initiative Protection Agenda or the Sustainable Development Goals).


  • Further integration of the challenges and benefits associated with human mobility into climate strategies and policies at national level is needed. National Adaptation Plans offer a good entry point for bringing considerations related to human mobility into the NDCs and other national climate policies.
  • More systematic adoption of a “migration lens” in research planning, implementation and funding would increase the benefits of migrants, and their origin and destination areas, and the positive co-benefits for climate change adaptation projects.
  • Marginalised and vulnerable groups are likely to require additional support and protection. The lack of disaggregated data in many countries hinders the development of targeted policies. Consultations with representatives of vulnerable groups can provide valuable insights.
  • There are entry points for addressing the environment-migration nexus in many other areas beyond climate policy. Mapping how different policy frameworks and agendas at sub-national, national and international level impact human mobility in the context of climate change can lay the groundwork for a more integrated approach.

Suggested citation

Wright, E., Tänzler, D., & Rüttinger, L. (2020). Migration, environment and climate change: Responding via climate change adaptation policy (No. 44; Migration, Environment and Climate Change). German Environment Agency.

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