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Extreme weather has displaced millions. Will our leaders address it at COP27?

Every country, city, and individual will be affected by the climate crisis – but it won’t affect everyone equally.
Publicado 15 Nov 2022 – 04:01 PM EST | Actualizado 15 Nov 2022 – 04:01 PM EST
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Internally displaced people wade through floodwaters to return home after heavy monsoon rains in Dadu district, Sindh province on September 7, 2022. Crédito: AAMIR QURESHI/AFP via Getty Images

World leaders are gathered in Egypt to discuss the urgent fight against climate change. The convening comes as climate change – and the lack of adequate action – are on full display.

Floods in Nigeria have killed more than 600 people and displaced over one million. Unprecedented monsoons and torrential rain in Pakistan killed 1,000 people, displaced 33 million, and caused at least $40 billion in damages. In Vietnam, more than 11,000 homes have been submerged along the coast of Da Nang due to flooding, with 10 dead so far.

Rising temperatures and climate disasters are forcing a record number of people across the world to migrate. And without serious efforts to limit greenhouse gas emissions, the World Bank estimates that 216 million people across six world regions could be displaced within their countries by 2050 due to climate crises.

And yet climate migration is not on the agenda at COP27.

As the mayor of Bogotá and the first mayor of a major South American city to declare a climate emergency, I have witnessed the short and long-term effects of climate crises and have first-hand knowledge of how these disasters impact both individuals and entire communities. And I’ve come to understand that it’s not enough just to make broad climate commitments if they aren’t centered on the people most directly impacted. That’s what I’m doing with the Climate Migration Council, a global coalition aimed at urging governments to develop and adopt equitable and inclusive solutions to address climate-related human mobility at the local, national, regional, and international level.

As communities become less liveable due to climate catastrophes, millions of people will be put in harm’s way by fleeing their homelands. Unmanaged migration will put pressure on a city’s infrastructure, economy, and resources and the shifts in population that we could see are likely to increase poverty and widen existing inequality.

We cannot afford to sit on our hands any longer. Global leaders must meet this moment and create equitable solutions on the issue of climate-driven migration.

Every country, city, and individual will be affected by the climate crisis – but it won’t affect everyone equally. Countries in South Asia, tropical sub-Saharan Africa, and parts of Central and South America are most affected by sudden climate disasters, disproportionately impacting Black, Indigenous, and other people of color, especially women. In fact, the United Nations estimates that women make up 80% of climate migrants.

As Elizabeth Ferris – researcher at the Study of International Migration at the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and fellow member of the Climate Migration Council and Reva Dhingra, Brookings Institute Post-Doctoral Fellow said of the upcoming event, “COP27 is an opportunity to not only recognize that climate migration is here to stay but also to make resources available to support governments. The wealthiest countries in the world have been the main drivers of climate change, yet developing countries and coastal and low-lying countries in particular bear the brunt of its effects.”

Global leaders at COP can and should increase investments in local adaptation strategies and adequate funding directed towards the communities most affected by climate crises and related migration. Additionally, they should address the vulnerabilities of persons affected by sudden-onset and slow-onset disasters by partnering with all levels of government to ensure governments have access to humanitarian assistance that meets migrants' essential needs with full respect for their rights wherever they are. Lastly, world leaders should expand and diversify the availability of pathways for safe, orderly, and regular migration.

COP27 is the perfect opportunity for world leaders to take action on climate-driven migration and work together to find bold solutions so that when disaster strikes, migrants have safe and humane opportunities to rebuild their lives and cities can safely and responsibly accommodate the increasing numbers of people affected by the climate crisis. If we don’t prioritize climate-driven migration, the lives of the millions of people who are already on the move will be put at risk.

Claudia López Hernández is the Mayor of Bogotá, Colombia.