The First International Migration Review Forum: Progress on Climate Migration?

Last month at the first-ever International Migration Review Forum (IMRF), UN Member States gathered at the UN General Assembly in New York to review progress towards implementing the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM), a non-binding document endorsed in 2018 that outlines a common approach for global migration governance. Four years on, IMRF participants agreed on and issued an intergovernmental Progress Declaration.

Advocates working on climate-related migration and displacement have long viewed the GCM as a significant opportunity for improving protection for people forced to move across borders due to climate-related factors. This is because the GCM features a number of relevant objectives, including a recognition of climate change as an adverse driver of migration that needs to be addressed; and the need to enhance the availability and flexibility of regular migration pathways related to climate change.

While the GCM has a lot of potential, what actual progress has been made? Here are five key takeaways:

  1. The official IMRF Progress Declaration reaffirms climate change as a driver of migration but does not demonstrate progress on new pathways for those displaced across borders by climate change. Despite initial opposition, the Declaration reaffirms that climate change is an adverse driver of migration. It also mentions progress in mainstreaming migration into national adaptation strategies and policies. It also notes that efforts to mitigate and adapt to climate change as well as climate finance have been insufficient. When it comes to discussing regular migration pathways, States committed to “strengthen…efforts to enhance and diversify the availability of pathways, including…for those affected by disasters, climate change and environmental degradation.” This is in line with previous commitments outlined in the GCM and does not necessarily mark forward-progress.
  2. Climate change remained a prominent part of the agenda for States, despite limited reference in the Progress Declaration. Indeed, many States referenced the importance of climate-related human mobility issues in their official statements during the IMRF. Some States even made official pledges to advance implementation of the GCM in ways related to climate change and human mobility.

    The number of side events during the week also demonstrated that interest on this issue was strong. At least 13 virtual, in-person, and hybrid side events hosted by a range of States, agencies, and other stakeholders focused on aspects of the climate change/mobility nexus.
  3. There has been some progress on addressing adverse drivers of migration, almost none on pathways in the context of climate change. At one official side event at the IMRF, the Platform on Disaster Displacement (PDD) released a report that analyzed the implementation of commitments in the context of climate change, disasters, and environmental degradation. It found that there are many more policies devoted to reducing risks and drivers of displacement than those that support and facilitate human mobility. In fact, out of the 932 identified policies, 96 percent, or 895 of them relate to addressing adverse drivers. During the event, Tobias Lindner, the Minister of State at the Federal Foreign Office of Germany, even noted that while it has been easy to convince people that climate change is one of the main drivers of migration, a gap remains in convincing European countries to accept migration in the context of climate change.
  4. Much progress is occurring within regions. The PDD report also finds that regions demonstrate the most progress related to policy on the climate-migration nexus that regional priorities are shaping national-level policy development. This includes the issue of pathways for which regional norms are evolving. In general, most instruments and provisions are recent, and in most cases, implementation is just getting started. For instance, in 2021 the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) in Eastern Africa adopted a Freedom of Movement Protocol, which allows those displaced by disasters to seek safety across borders within the sub-region. Regional-level processes, such as the South American Conference on Migration, have informed policies, such as Argentina’s recently announced “Special Humanitarian Visa” to facilitate regular admission of those from Central America, Mexico, and the Caribbean who are fleeing “socio-natural” disasters.
  5. Climate change is real for migrants. At the IMRF, it was clear that climate change is not an abstract issue for many local communities and local officials. During one parallel side event hosted by civil society, the People’s Migration Challenge, speakers from across the world, including Honduras, Bangladesh, Jordan, Nepal, Kenya, and the Pacific, discussed the ways in which climate change has already affected their ways of life and communities. In addition, the Mayor of North Dhaka, Bangladesh, Mohamad Atiqul Islam, and the Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, Yvonne Aki Sawyerr, both noted that their cities were already on the frontlines and already receiving migrants as a result of climate change. As a part of the C40/MMC Global Mayors Action Agenda on Climate and Migration, they have committed to ensuring that migrants coming into their cities are supported and resilient. The climate crisis will continue drive these realities – but it remains to be seen if global migration governance, especially under the influence of the GCM, will be able to step up to ensure that this sort of migration is safe and regular.