On the move – but not by choice. Climate change as a trigger and aggravator of forced migration

Ocean Farmers has taken up the challenge of making aquaculture efficient, sustainable and accessible to as many people as possible. Photo Ocean Farmers Madagascar

Rebecca Hamilton

25 Aug, 2022

The crisis in Ukraine has brought the issue of forced migration into the headlines – since the Russian invasion in February 2022, more than 6.3 million Ukrainians have fled their homeland seeking refuge. Recent history certainly brings the extent of mass migration patterns into focus - including the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August 2021 which sparked widespread internal migration, and violent insurgencies in the Central Sahel region of Africa earlier that same year. By the end of 2019, 13.2 million Syrians had been forcibly displaced by the ravages of civil war. The plight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people fleeing into Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh over the last several years intensified in March 2021 after a massive fire swept through four of the most densely populated refugee camps, destroying shelters, food distribution sites, and clean water and sanitation facilities.


In fact, according to the latest Global Trends Report issued in June by the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, the number of people displaced by conflict, persecution, and state violence rose for the tenth year in a row, reaching 89.3 million - the highest level since records began. 


Escalating these staggering figures are the numbers of people driven from their homes by climate change induced disasters and environmental pressures. The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) describes climate change as both a trigger of forced displacement and a visible aggravator. Staggeringly, according to the IDMC’s latest Global Report, conflict and disasters triggered 40.5 million new internal displacements across 149 countries and territories over the course of 2020.  The reality that few countries have national policies to address climate-induced displacement and migration, and that people fleeing in the context of climate change and disasters do not necessarily have access to international legal protection, unlike those fleeing violent conflict, compounds the complexity of this global crisis. 


The effects of climate change are certainly more and more visible – we regularly witness devastating disasters at home, and across the globe. This month alone, there has been severe flooding in Pakistan, affecting an estimated 1 million people, killing 580 and destroying homes, schools, and crops, and a once-in 1,000-year downpour in California’s Death Valley. Australians know all too well the toll extreme weather events can take – and at home and everywhere else, the most vulnerable are the hardest hit. 


Though the Australian Government has committed to global and regional agreements to urgently address climate change, including the Paris Agreement, the Boe Declaration on Regional Security and the Kainaki II Declaration, to date, national ambition and the level of climate finance and action within the development program is not in line with the scale and pace of action necessary. Both in its own programs and as a voice globally, Australia has the opportunity now with a motivated government to champion socially responsible and equitable solutions to climate change - including increasing efforts to protect and support those displaced by its effects.  


To build momentum towards increased action, ACFID’s National Conference this year will take deep dives into the varied interconnecting issues pertaining to a changing climate, and the urgency to restore ecosystems, including exposing the complexities of climate-induced migration. 


Incredible speakers are lined up for a plenary panel on climate change as both a trigger and an aggravator of displacement, with a focus on the acute climate change vulnerability of the Pacific and Southeast Asian regions.  


ACFID is thrilled to welcome Scientia Professor of Law, and Director of the Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at UNSW Jane McAdam AO, to guide panellists through this discussion, with an emphasis on the criticality of elevating local voices and prioritising collaborative action. Professor McAdam is a highly qualified academic, with special expertise in cross-border relocations, and a presence on several international committees, including the Advisory Committee of the Platform on Disaster Displacement. In 2021, Professor McAdam was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) 'for distinguished service to international refugee law, particularly to climate change and the displacement of people'. Legislatively, beyond mitigation and adaption, we need the political will to address the gaps in public policy and international law which are not making accommodations commensurate to the complex needs of displaced peoples and the intensification of climate-induced displacement. 


We are honoured to welcome UNHCR Special Advisor to the High Commissioner for Climate Action, Andrew Harper to the stage for this panel, whose advocacy and support to refugees and those suffering the effects of disasters is truly incredible. Bringing three decades of experience and expertise to bear, Mr Harper will join the conversation to highlight the collaborative and coordinated effort required of partner agencies, member states, civil society, affected populations, the private sector, academia, development, and peace and security sectors to arrest the intensification of the climate emergency, and large-scale forced displacement crises.  


Joining the virtual panel from Bangladesh we will welcome Zakia Naznin, National Gender and Socio-Economic Analyst for the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations. Ms Naznin has vast experience working with different communities in various geographical areas of Bangladesh on climate resilience and disaster risk reduction. Bangladesh is ranked amongst the top seven countries most vulnerable to climate change, and a recent World Bank report forecasts that 13.3 million Bangladeshis could be displaced by 2050. Zakia’s insights from the ground will be compelling.  


Co-chair of the International Women's Development Agency (IWDA) Betty Barkha completes the panel, joining from Monash University’s Center for Gender, Peace, and Security (Monash GPS). Ms Barkha’s research is focused on examining the gendered impacts of climate change induced mobilities in the Pacific, specifically looking at the political economy of planned relocation and displacement in Fiji. Ms Barkha has served on the Boards of the global women’s rights and civil society organisations AWID and CIVICUS, and as an advisor to the FRIDA Young Feminist Fund, the Global Resilience Fund, and FHI 360, a non-profit human development organization dedicated to improving lives in lasting ways by advancing integrated, locally driven solutions.  


Reducing the economic, social, and human costs of intensifying displacement is within reach - you don’t want to miss this panel to learn more  -grab your ticket to Conference now!


  • Rebecca Hamilton
    Rebecca Hamilton

    Rebecca is a member of ACFID's Policy and Advocacy Team, from a background in both the public and private sectors – with the International Policy Division at the Department of Defence, the Pacific Branch within the then Australian Agency for International Development, and more recently with Coffey International working on the Australia Awards Indonesia Scholarship Program. 

    Rebecca has a BA and Master’s Degree in International Studies from the University of Queensland.


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