Addressing natural disasters, adverse effects of climate change and environmental degradation:
solutions for human mobility and human security
Statement by Michelle Bachelet United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
Marrakech, 9 December 2018
My dear Filippo,
Climate change is the perfect example of a challenge that States can only overcome through multilateralism and strong, cooperative and human rights-based action.
It also demonstrates conclusively that human rights, and human security and wellbeing are indivisible: neither walls, nor wealth can insulate any country from the suffering caused by climate change. Together with other forms of environmental degradation, climate change creates an unprecedented and systemic threat to the planet and rights of its inhabitants.
If I have one message to you this evening, let it be this: there is still time to take action and prevent the worst of these harms, by committing to more ambitious climate change mitigation, now.
Already, hurricanes are smashing apart decades of infrastructure development in a few minutes. Severe droughts, rising temperatures, wildfires, erratic rain patterns and the negative impact on fishing of increasingly warm and acidic oceans are destroying people’s livelihoods and homes.
These impacts have multiple and complex run-on effects on societies – and on individuals’ human rights. When people lack access to food, water, shelter and other necessities, they are deprived of their basic rights. The resulting rising tensions are likely to lead to violence and other negative outcomes. Moreover, those forced to leave their homes to seek survival – whether they are internally displaced, or leave their countries completely – grow more vulnerable to human rights abuses.
In other words, there is a complex, interlocking and deadly relationship between climate change, development, human security, migration and human rights. And it is essential that all relevant actors take prompt and effective measures to undo these processes before they accelerate further.
The aim of our discussion this evening is to pool our collective insights into the environment-related forces, which drive people to leave their homes. On that basis, we can encourage policy makers to adopt specific measures to ensure protection of those most vulnerable, and provide sustainable solutions for those who have been compelled to migrate.
We will be hearing from the distinguished Foreign Secretary of Bangladesh and His Excellency the Ambassador of Tuvalu, two countries facing acute challenges generated by climate change, which they did not cause – but suffer from.
Enabling people to make a sustainable livelihood is key to helping them cope with, and recover from, climate stresses and shocks. Building trust through shared management of climate-sensitive natural resources can also yield the double benefits of better adaptation to climate change and greater social harmony.
In the early 1990s, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) stated that the greatest single impact of climate change might be on human migration. The experts were not wrong, climate change and other environmental drivers are pushing increasing numbers of people to leave their homes. These numbers will continue to rise.
Currently, those most affected by climate change include indigenous peoples, and those living in poverty – among them, a disproportionately large number of women. States must respond through inclusive, participatory and differentiated measures, benefitting all, but particularly those most vulnerable. The international community must also be present to provide support for those policies.
The Global Compact specifically commits States to develop mechanisms for disaster risk reduction, and climate change mitigation and adaptation, to address the needs of the people whose lives and rights are most at risk from these threats.
The Compact also specifically affirms that States must find solutions for all people, who have been compelled to move by climate change, environmental degradation and natural disasters, while ensuring the effective protection of their human rights.
This includes the provision of food, shelter and adequate health-care to migrants, and safeguarding the principle of non-refoulement, the right to seek asylum, and the prohibition of collective expulsion, as well as the rights to liberty, personal integrity and family unity.
And it means States are legally obligated to provide human rights-based solutions for those who cannot return. They may also need to provide specific protection mechanisms to enable the admission and stay of migrants in vulnerable situations, and strengthen systems for social protection systems.
My Office can assist States to address these challenges. We can help to identify and design human rights-based legal mechanisms for admission and residence of migrants compelled to move, due to slow- and sudden-onset natural disasters. In addition, the Office can share and build on emerging examples of practice in countries around the world, and in line with the guidance offered by the OHCHR/Global Migration Group (GMG) Principle and Guidelines on the human rights protection of migrants in vulnerable situations.
We can also support States to develop appropriate screening procedures and interview techniques for the identification of migrants leaving because of slow onset climate change, commonly identified as people "seeking better opportunities". Finally, we can also help States to strengthen and monitor specific aspects of their current migration policies and practice in order to improve their capacity to protect the human rights of climate migrants.
As environmental changes caused by human activity shrink the habitable area of our planet, it grows increasingly urgent that we learn to live together, with respect for the rights of all. We can re-set our shared planet on a course of greater inclusion; more equality; more sustained prosperity; more justice; more dignity; more freedom; greater human rights; and more enduring peace.