The Global Forum on Migration and Development: Three Big Takeaways for the Climate Displacement Community

In December 2018, 152 UN member states adopted the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration (GCM), a first-of-its-kind compact that lays out 23 objectives that guide countries on how to improve cooperation and find solutions around issues of international migration.

A little over a year later, in January 2020, I joined members of government, civil society, and the private sector in Quito, Ecuador for the 2019 Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) to discuss, understand, and chart the path toward GCM implementation. The GFMD is an important space for stakeholders to come together annually, exchange information, and report on findings and progress. Much of the focus of this year’s GFMD was building toward the Regional Migration Review Fora (RMRFs), regional gatherings on GCM that will first be held in 2020. Ultimately, in 2022 and every four years after that, these stakeholders will meet again for the first-ever the International Migration Review Forum (IMRF), which is the primary intergovernmental platform for showcasing the implementation of the GCM at the local, national, regional, and global levels.

The GCM is the first time an internationally negotiated comprehensive framework made reference to climate change as a driver of displacement and took seriously a range of efforts to avert and address this type of displacement. For those of us in the climate displacement advocacy community, the GCM and its surrounding efforts are a much-needed opportunity to make progress on our issues.

But for the GFMD to continue to play an important part of the GCM process, this year’s left us with three big takeaways:

1. The road towards GCM implementation will be rocky.

The UN Network on Migration, which has been tasked with ensuring effective, timely, and coordinated system-wide support to UN member states for GCM implementation, has not received the support needed to jump start the process. So far, the Start-up Fund for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (or Migration Multi-Partner Trust Fund), which will support country-level implementation of the GCM, has raised less than 50 percent of requested funding — US$10 million out of the US$25 million. In addition, this year’s Regional Migration Review Fora are already substantially delayed, with worries this could have knock-on effects for states being able to turn their commitments into real action. These fora are a necessary step for stakeholders to understand when and where the rubber hits the road for GCM implementation and objectives related to climate displacement.

2. It will be up to civil society to keep climate on the agenda.

A large and diverse list of government representatives and private sector entities spoke at the GFMD. However, climate was given short shrift. It was only through the efforts of the GFMD Civil Society Coordinating Office and the International Catholic Migration Commission (ICMC) that climate change remained on the Forum’s agenda. Civil society will need to lead the charge on coordinated action on climate change in subsequent fora.

3. “Nothing about migrants without migrants.”

Laced throughout civil society discussions and emblazoned on t-shirts around the GFMD was the phrase, “Nada sobre migrantes sin migrantes” (Nothing about migrants without migrants). It became this year’s unofficial civil society chant. This phrase is meant to highlight the limited participation of migrants themselves in negotiations and discussions of the GCM. This critique also rings true for climate-affected communities. Only their experiences will be able to inform and dictate ways forward, especially when it comes to viable climate change adaptation options to avert displacement and to understand their desires for different forms of safe pathways and protection.

Civil society engaged in climate displacement must stay the course to navigate the complexities of GCM implementation, raise the alarm on the issue of climate displacement, and include the voices of climate-affected communities in our efforts. As recent IPCC reports on oceans and lands show, time is running out to avert the gravest climate impacts, rendering certain places globally as “uninhabitable.”

The time to act is now.