Africa: Opinion - Climate Migrants Are Coming to Cities, So We Need a Plan

Two boys pick their way along a flooded road in South Sudan.
opinion

As we saw at the recent UN General Assembly, international climate change efforts remain focused on the big targets - such as efforts to reduce global emissions. But according to UNHCR, in 2018, 16 million people were displaced by climate change. This number alone shows the urgent need to place people at the heart of climate action. As the climate worsens, there is a need to ensure that those most impacted by climate change are a part of the solution and given opportunities not just to survive, but to thrive.

Cities are a leading force in tackling the global climate crisis and are uniquely placed to address the nexus between climate and migration. Already impacted by both, they do not hesitate to take action,not only to ensure greening of their infrastructure and economy but also to support those who are displaced by climate-induced migration.

Hundreds of families from Central America are leaving because of changing climate conditions that leave them without crops, food or safety. These stories are increasingly replicated across the world.

Approximately 234,000 people have been displaced in South Sudan as a result of floods taking place across the conflict-torn country. Entire nations in the Pacific Ocean are facing complete destruction.

According to UNHCR, an annual average of 21.5 million people have been forcibly displaced by weather-related sudden onset hazards - such as floods, storms, wildfires, extreme temperature - each year since 2008.

The World Bank estimates that Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia alone will generate 143 million more climate migrants by 2050.

Climate migration has a direct impact for cities. Cities are increasingly the prime destination for displaced persons and refugees. while rising sea levels affect especially coastal cities around the world. For mayors around the world, climate change will pose one of the most pressing issues in the coming months and years.

For instance, in Freetown, Sierra Leone, there have been several major floods in the last two months, which has driven an influx of people into the city. Freetown aims to welcome and harness migrants. However, many of those who entered the city needed affordable home or temporary shelters, but ended living near to rivers, making them in turn vulnerable to flooding and secondary displacement.

The Mayors Migration Council (MMC) and C40 Cities have joined their forces to better understand how climate and migration is interlinked and to develop inclusive climate actions and policies. People must be at the heart of climate action. It's about saving lives, and about social cohesion and peaceful living together in our communities and countries. Poor and marginalized countries and communities, who are the least responsible for and most impacted by climate change, will be hurt the most.

A group of our leadership board members from the MMC, that I am proud to lead as a special climate envoy, came together in Copenhagen last week to set out a pathway forward. We intend to use our collective power to find solutions and our influence to help shape and coordinate international policies, and unlock financial support for cities to better respond for the implications of climate migration, particularly in the areas most vulnerable to climate change migration. We will lead on areas such as urban planning, social cohesion in order to stand up for all residents in cities and ensure nobody is left behind.

As the examples of the Guatemalan and South Sudanese families shows, it is becoming clear that climate action must go beyond energy, the environment and the economy. It is increasingly about protecting people and we intend to ensure than nobody affected by climate change is left behind.

Georgios Kaminis is the former mayor of Athens, and climate migration envoy for the Mayors Migration Council.

Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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