Climate Migration Op-Ed

Why cities must redress injustice and embrace the climate displaced

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

Today, just weeks after the latest migrant boat tragedy in the Mediterranean, we come together as the mayors of London and Accra to acknowledge the resilience of refugees and displaced people who have been on the frontline of the climate crisis and the contribution they make to our cities and the fight for a greener future.

London has always been a proud beacon of refuge for those seeking safety, offering people sanctuary and a chance to prosper and fulfil their potential. Accra is also a common destination for rural migrants from other regions of Ghana and international migrants from sub-Saharan Africa. Their knowledge and skills enrich our cities and strengthen cultural and economic ties to wider diaspora communities globally.

In Accra, we are very aware that people are already suffering from the damage caused by extreme weather. And, while London is far from the worst hit, it’s not immune to the climate crisis, seeing 40-degree weather in recent years that has led to wildfires and some of the busiest days the London Fire Brigade has experienced since the Second World War.

Cities must work together

We know we have much more to do to make our cities more resilient to the impacts of climate change. We are committed to working with other cities to help build the resilient protections needed in London, Accra and around the world. We are also committed to cutting carbon emissions in our cities to prevent our climate from becoming more unstable and dangerous.

Migrants and refugees help to support the development of climate resilience solutions. They are an incredible asset that is too often overlooked and unacknowledged. Diaspora populations in the UK, for example, are the third largest group sending earnings back to Ghana, with $300 million transferred yearly. In cities, such as Accra, these funds are a lifeline when recovering from extreme weather events.

The evidence shows that the flow of money increases in the aftermath of natural disasters. However, while these transfers prove to be a more stable financial lifeline than international development funding, that cannot remain the case. The international community must step up and start fulfilling its obligations.

Migrant remittances exceed overseas development aid

In 2022, international migrants sent a staggering $647 billion to low and middle-income countries, three times more than the total overseas development aid for the same year. It’s time for the Global North to deliver its commitment to mobilise $100 billion per year for climate action.

We should not lose sight of this injustice. On the one hand, climate change displaces millions of people every year. On the other, the same people who are forced to abandon their countries, often due to climate impacts, are contributing to filling a climate finance gap left by national and international inaction. To redress this global imbalance we need 50% of all climate finance to be allocated to adaptation projects and for a significant part of the funding to be directed through cities, currently, this stands at just 9%.

Harnessing migrant climate knowledge

Many migrants and refugees also have knowledge and skills that can help to drive climate action. They often have first-hand experience of the devastating effects of climate change and their unique perspectives and international networks can help to bridge cultural gaps, raise awareness and rally support for the climate initiatives that we are trying to implement in cities worldwide.

The Ghana Youth Environment Movement, for example, is bringing an invigorating dynamism to how we work together, empowering young people with the knowledge, leadership and skills to respond to environmental challenges in communities, as well as the impacts of climate change on livelihoods.

These young people – like so many others around the world – are showing our leaders how to raise ambition and we, as mayors, are listening and responding. We know we need to raise the game on climate action and this is what we’re determined to do through direct action in our individual cities and through our work as members of the C40 – a global network of nearly 100 mayors of the world’s leading cities that have united to confront the climate emergency – and of the C40-Mayors Migration Council’s Task Force on Climate and Migration.

African mayors are already taking bold action locally and internationally to protect their residents from heat, flooding and landslides and to welcome people displaced by climate impacts. But they need more funding to do so at scale. That’s why it’s good news that the Mayors Migration Council’s Global Cities Fund for Migrants and Refugees, announced during World Refugee Day (June 20, 2023), five new grantee cities to help develop projects for children and caregivers.

While national governments have yet to fully harness this potential, cities such as London and Accra are leading the charge. As mayors, we call upon national governments worldwide to step up and ensure the Global South receives the prioritisation and finance it deserves. And, let’s ensure the international community supports them by enabling direct cities’ access to climate finance.

Let us celebrate the strength, resilience and invaluable contributions of refugees and displaced people. Let us amplify their voices, support their initiatives and build a united global front against the climate crisis.

Sadiq Khan is the Mayor of London, England

Elizabeth Naa Kwatsoe Tawiah Sackey is the Mayor of Accra, Ghana


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