New tools needed to cope with climate change migrations, UN agency says

Millions of people lost their homes after massive floods devastated Pakistan in summer 2010. UN Photo/WFP/Amjad Jamal

6 June 2011 – Climate change will result in increased migrations and displacements of people, the head of the United Nations refugee agency said today, and the world needs to develop new methods to deal with it.

António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told a conference on climate change and displacement in Norway that “it has become increasingly clear that natural disasters and climate change cannot be regarded or addressed in isolation from the other global mega-trends that are conditioning the future of our planet and its people.”

“Population growth, urbanization, water, food, and energy insecurity will increasingly interact with each other and create the potential for competition and conflict over scarce natural resources,” he said. “As a result we are also likely to see growing numbers of people being displaced from one community, country and continent to another.”

Mr. Guterres called on the countries which bear primary responsibility for climate change to establish “a massive programme of support to the most seriously affected countries, thereby reinforcing the resilience of their citizens and their ability to adapt to the process of climate change.”

“I strongly believe that a… viable approach would be to at least develop a global guiding framework for situations of cross-border displacement resulting from climate change and natural disasters,” he said. “UNHCR stands ready to support states in the development of such a framework, which could take the form of temporary or interim protection arrangements.”

“We could assist in the identification of scenarios in which such arrangements would be activated. And we could help to develop procedures and standards of treatment for affected populations,” he said.

He also urged countries to switch from the usual emergency-mode response to natural disasters.

“The billions of dollars spent on relief in recent decades have evidently not led to the sustainable strengthening of national and local capacities,” he said.

Mr. Guterres spoke in Oslo at the Nansen Conference on Climate Change and Displacement in the 21st Century, organized by Norway’s environment and foreign affairs ministries to mark the 150th anniversary of the birth of Fridtjof Nansen, the first High Commissioner for Refugees under the League of Nations.


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