UNHCR: Urgent steps needed now to mitigate climate impact on displaced people


Bangladesh. Monsoon rains and flash floods hit Rohingya camps in Cox's BazarRohingya refugee children play after heavy rainfall in a camp in Bangladesh. Monsoon rains and strong winds caused flash floods and landslides in camps in Cox’s Bazar in July. © UNHCR/Amos Halder

There is now a clear link between climate-related emergencies and forced displacement, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, said today, imploring leaders to change words to action and step up support for people forced to flee, and their hosts, to avert and mitigate loss and damage in the most vulnerable regions.

As the UN Climate Change Conference (COP 26) enters its final week, and focuses on adaptation, UNHCR called for more assistance to the countries and communities most impacted by the climate emergency yet most neglected in terms of support. The focus needs to be channeled to community-based adaptation projects to help the millions grappling with the catastrophic effects of climate change, many of whom have been displaced, often multiple times.

“Most of the people we support are from countries on the front lines of the climate emergency or they are being hosted in states equally impacted,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees. “They face climate-related disasters like floods, droughts and desertification. This destroys livelihoods, stokes conflict, and has forced people to move. We urgently need new thinking, innovation, funding from the wealthiest, and political will just to contain the situation – let alone improve things.”

In Glasgow, UNHCR’s Special Advisor on Climate Action, Andrew Harper, is highlighting the impact of climate change on the displaced. Ninety per cent of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate and 70 per cent of the internally displaced are from vulnerable countries least ready to adapt. Millions more are forced from their homes every year in disasters. Mr. Harper will highlight how climate change is already amplifying vulnerabilities in many regions that host displaced people. In Afghanistan, rising temperatures and droughts have exacerbated the effects of 40 years of war, worsening food shortages in a country with over 3.5 million people internally displaced. In Mozambique, insurgency has forced 730,000 to flee as the country reels from cyclones.

In the Sahel, temperatures are rising 1.5 times faster than the rest of the world, and climate-related impacts are increasing competition for resources in areas where armed groups already exploit weak governance, poverty, and ethnic tensions. Supporting the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, UNHCR has brought together predictive analytics experts under an inter-agency project to anticipate how climate change will impact risks, and to support development, humanitarian and peace-building efforts.

UNHCR works in 130 countries delivering protection and assistance, and supporting displaced and host communities to adapt and create solutions in the increasingly inhospitable climate. “We operate in many areas already experiencing the devastating impact of the 1.5-degree temperature rise,” Mr. Harper said. “We can’t wait for more COPs and more unfulfilled commitments. The displaced and their hosts need help now – to build resilience to resist the looming increase in extreme weather events.”

Mr. Grandi added: “Forced displacement is among the most devastating human consequences of climate change and shows the deep inequalities in our world. Partnering with those already suffering the effects of climate change, especially those uprooted from home, is critical to successful solutions. But they need international support, and they need it now.”

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