COP26: 5 Takeaways for Climate Migration and Displacement

Earlier this month, delegates from all over the world gathered in Glasgow, Scotland, for the 26th annual UN climate change conference (COP26) to negotiate commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. This was the first conference after the famous COP21 Paris Climate Agreement, wherein countries committed to limiting global warming “well below 2 °C.” Delegates were expected to update on progress toward that goal. And this time, COP26 aimed to put the world on a pathway to limit warming to 1.5°C.  

Despite this ambition, those on the frontlines of climate change impacts had strong words about the resulting negotiated agreement, the Glasgow Climate Pact, including calling it a “failure,” a “betrayal,” and a “death sentence.”  

These are big statements. But what does the Glasgow Climate Pact mean for climate-related migration and displacement? Let’s get into the details.

  1. Mitigation efforts still lack ambition and accountability. The Glasgow Climate Pact reaffirmed the desire of all countries to limit global warming to 1.5°C, but pledges put the world on course for a 1.8°C rise by 2100. And, that’s only if countries truly follow through on their promises—and few have provided concrete details on how they’ll achieve them. If the Paris Agreement is any indication, pledges mean little, as countries have failed to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions over the last five years. In fact, with current policies in place, the world is currently on pace to warm by 2.7°C. A difference between a 1.8°C and a 2.7°C world, would mean tens of thousands of more people on the move inside countries.

  2. More adaptation financing on the table. Rich countries failed to renew climate finance pledges of $100 billion per year to help poorer countries to mitigate and adapt to climate change. That task will be left to next year’s COP in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, where parties will begin a two-year work plan ending in 2024 to settle on how to ramp up climate finance. However, one bright spot: rich countries agreed to collectively double funding for climate adaptation projects by 2025. Given that adaptation accounts for only a quarter of total climate finance last year, or US$20 billion, this pledge is much needed. Without a drastic ramping up of adaptation financing, the window to adapt drastically shrinks, and opting for migration as a last resort may increase.
  3. Countries (and the United States) pledge more to the Adaptation Fund than ever before. The small but mighty Adaptation Fund, an international mechanism that finances projects and programs aimed at helping developing countries to adapt to climate change, raised a record US$356 million in new pledges. This more than triples its previous year’s budget. For the first time ever, the United States pledged money to the Fund—although its US$50 million pledge falls short of recommendations made by many advocates, including Refugees International. A healthy Adaptation Fund is important for rapid, locally led adaptation efforts, which studies show have the best chance to make a difference and which may then prevent the need for migration.  
  4. Dedicated financing on loss and damage remains elusive (kind of). A common point of tension during COP negotiations was the issue of loss and damage, a term that acknowledges that there are limits to adaptation, that there will be irreversible losses due to climate change, such as displacement; and countries that have been the largest emitters of carbon have responsibilities to provide funds to address these outcomes. This year, poorer countries advocated for establishing a “Glasgow Loss and Damage Finance Facility” that mobilized money specific to loss and damage. To galvanize momentum, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon offered £2 million towards this Facility. A group of philanthropies, including the Children’s Investment Fund Foundation, the European Climate Foundation, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation, the Open Society Foundations, and the Global Green Grants Fund, pledged an additional US$3 million towards this same end. However, in the end, these overtures were ignored in favor of a less ambitious “Glasgow Dialogue” between parties on loss and damage, which will convene from 2022 to 2024.In addition, parties agreed to fund the Santiago Network, a body that aims to build technical expertise on dealing with loss and damage, including climate-related displacement.  
  5. Actors outside of negotiations lead the way. As was the case for loss and damage, philanthropies led the way forward for research and support on climate-related displacement. For example, the Bosch Foundation announced a collaboration with the African Union Commission, the United Nations, the World Bank, and others, called the “African Climate Mobility Initiative.” Its goal is to generate political momentum to identify solutions to tackle climate-forced mobility on the African continent. This initiative illustrates that sometimes solutions related to climate change and migration may be better found outside of COP negotiations.

In the end, COP26 shows that multilateral processes may sometimes be slow and cumbersome—which often may not meet the urgency of the challenges for climate-related migration and displacement. This is why it’s more important than ever to ensure that countries and regional bodies are held to account. This is why Refugees International continues to closely track and engage with the Biden administration’s interest in climate change and migration issues—and argue the need to go beyond just financing prevention, but also to offer novel means of protection and pathways for those displaced by climate change.

COVER PHOTO: A person walks passed an advert in Glasgow during the Cop26 summit, Thursday November 11, 2021. (Photo by Andrew Milligan/PA Images via Getty Images)