Climate Migration Op-Ed

Climate Migration Necessitates Unified Leadership

This article first appeared on Global Americans website. MMC engages in content partnerships with several organizations, and cross-posting does not indicate an endorsement or agreement.

It is undeniable that climate change is playing a greater role in pushing millions of people across the globe to uproot their lives in search of a safer future. As our climate changes, we are seeing more frequent and more intense natural disasters, dramatic sea level rise, destruction of food systems, and political strife, which have profound consequences on people and communities worldwide. In recent years, millions of Venezuelans have left their homes due to political instability, a severe economic crisis, increased violence, and other environmental factors exacerbated by the country’s climate-change-induced drought. Many of those people have arrived in the coastal city of Barranquilla, Colombia. Today, Barranquilla is home to approximately 150,000 migrants, refugees, and returnees from Venezuela, representing approximately 10 percent of its population. 

As climate change radically shifts how and where we live, migration as an adaptation strategy is becoming an increasingly common phenomenon in a changing world. Across the globe, migration to urban areas has become increasingly common, offering challenges and opportunities for local leaders to create innovative solutions to support migrants and receiving communities. As a starting point, frameworks to create lasting solutions must include investments to better adapt in place and reduce displacement; approaches to facilitate the dignified movement of those who live in risk-prone areas; increasing access for newcomers to urban infrastructure and services regardless of migration status; and green and decent job creation programs for urban migrants and displaced people. 

As the Mayor of Barranquilla and the executive director of the Mayors Migration Council—a mayor-led coalition that accelerates ambitious global action on migration and displacement—we know that climate-related migration to, from, and through cities is a reality. In fact, the World Bank predicts that by 2050, 17 million Latin Americans will be driven to migrate by climate conditions. Movement in South America is not an anomaly, though, as climate-driven migration is affecting people and communities around the world. Greater efforts from the international community are necessary to fully comprehend this new era of climate-driven displacement and to turn the page from an assistance-based model to one that favors medium- and long-term solutions, such as dignified housing, that are at the core of sustainable socioeconomic integration approaches. We must ensure adaptation and resilience finance is leveraged to tackle climate drivers of migration—in the US, but especially in Global South countries and cities that bear the disproportionate brunt of climate impacts. 

The city of Barranquilla, for example, is meeting this need by offering public services that provide migrants with income-generating tools and training, while piloting long-term solutions to improve climate resilience in high-risk hotspots prone to flooding and landslides. Thanks to this, Barranquilla has become a regional example of the positive effects of migration by successfully integrating migrants into its social, cultural, and economic fabric.

Just as Barranquilla is not the only city facing these challenges, it’s not alone in taking action. The Climate Migration Council is playing a critical role in bringing together elected officials, business leaders, academics, and advocates who share a commitment to putting people at the center of climate action and enacting policies that support resilient communities welcoming climate migrants. As members of the council, we understand the importance of global leaders enacting equitable policies designed to allow safe processes for these migrants.

Some of that is already happening on a global scale. To assist cities supporting migrants and displaced people, the Mayors Migration Council launched the Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees: Inclusive Climate Action, which provides financial and technical resources to cities that are addressing the needs of those displaced by climate change. With this funding, the city of Barranquilla trained more than 100 migrants and refugees in job readiness, connected them to 100 employers within the city, and secured additional funding to expand the program to cover more migrants in need. The Global Cities Fund is also leading the way in city-led responses to climate migration, funding 11 African cities to proactively respond to the impact of the climate crisis on migrants and refugees—from resilience efforts to prevent displacement, to relocating people with dignity when needed, to creating good, green jobs for migrants. These innovative approaches should be learned from and expanded to the Americas.

This week, we’ll be at the inaugural Cities Summit of the Americas with leaders across the Western Hemisphere. There, we will collaborate on how to properly equip our cities for changing migration patterns driven by climate change and promote regional cooperation among elected officials to build resilience at the local level. We’re also calling on our fellow leaders at the Cities Summit of the Americas to develop strategies and financial instruments to ensure the safety and well-being of those displaced by climate. In doing so, we must also listen to and uplift those at the frontlines of climate migration, including cities and affected communities.

The Cities Summit cannot be the beginning and the end of these discussions, though. Instead, this must be a jumping-off point for leaders across the Western Hemisphere and beyond to enact policies and plans like the ones we’ve done in Barranquilla and with the Mayors Migration Council.

The people at the center of climate change-related events need more than our steadfast support—they need urgent and deliberate action. 

Jaime Pumarejo Heins is the Mayor of Barranquilla, Colombia. 

Vittoria Zanuso is the Executive Director of the Mayors Migration Council.


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