Climate Change and Security - The Challenge of Internal Displacement in Small Island Developing States

NEW YORK 11 November/SUVA 12 November 2020 – Climate-induced displacement of island communities creates major socio-economic and human security implications for the world’s small island developing States (SIDS).  

In a virtual briefing hosted by the Pacific Islands Forum, UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) and UN Office of the High Representative for Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing countries and Small Island Developing States (OHRLLS), stakeholders agreed that unless properly managed and adequately funded, internal displacement can exacerbate poverty, cause social tensions and hinder sustainable development in SIDS.

In opening remarks by the High Representative for the Least Developed Countries, Landlocked Developing Countries and Small Island Developing States, Ms. Fekitamoeloa Katoa Utoikamanu, stressed that mitigation, especially by major greenhouse gas emitters, remains the primary response to the climate crisis. She also emphasized that internal displacement, whether forceful or voluntary, can pose economic, social and cultural challenges which will further compound existing challenges including debt crises and the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Presenters from the University of the South Pacific, IOM, Fiji and Sao Tome and Principe highlighted the need to work with communities at risk of displacement from either slow onset or rapid onset climate events. They also highlighted the importance of building on the long history of migration among Pacific island countries to understand how populations were able to thrive and create new opportunities despite the loss of their traditional homelands.

While participants acknowledged the major challenges SIDS are facing, they also noted that internal displacement could bring about benefits such as employment , cultural exchange, human capital development, technological progress and provide the local stimulus for economic growth. 

Representatives from SIDS governments shared the unique challenges their countries are facing and the solutions they are exploring to address climate induced internal displacement resulting from climate hazards like coastal degradation, flash floods, sea level rise and tropical storms.  

They noted that effective action will require increased academic research as well as dialogue with all affected parties on climate change impacts on internal displacement in local, national, regional and global fora. An integrated whole of government and whole of society approach is needed, whereby all stakeholders including the communities directly affected by climate change and internal displacement, are involved in the policy-making process.  

For SIDS to effectively address climate induced displacement, it was recognised that there is a need for additional support, including financing, from the international community. Several projects and initiatives already being undertaken by governments and development partners to tackle climate change and internal displacement were also elaborated. These included: (i) Pacific Climate Change Migration and Human Security programme implemented by IOM, in partnership with ESCAP, OHCHR, and ILO; (ii) the Climate Security Project in the Pacific covering Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands supported by the UN Secretary-General’s Peacebuilding Fund; (iii) the West Africa Coastal Areas Resilience Investment Project by the World Bank; (iv) Fiji’s Planned Relocation Guidelines developed by the Fijian Government with the support of the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ); (v) and Fiji’s Climate Relocation and Displaced People Trust Fund.  

Welcoming the efforts underway in this area, in his closing remarks, Assistant Secretary-General Khaled Khiari (DPPA) mentioned that Member State interest in the linkages between climate change, prevention and sustaining peace continues to rise, including in the Security Council and that DPPA has steadily increased its efforts in this area in partnership with Small Island Developing States, OHRLLS, in partnership with DPPA and the Pacific Islands Forum will continue this discusssion series with further sessions on aspects of the climate change and security challenges in Small Islands Developing States in 2021.