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People on the Move: Strengthening Adaptation Responses to Support Human Movement in a Changing Climate, Technical Report (May 2021)

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The climate is changing at an unprecedented pace. Sudden-onset events such as cyclones, floods, droughts and wildfires are occurring with increased intensity and frequency, threatening assets and increasing the vulnerability of people globally. At the same time, slow-onset events—including sea level rise, higher temperatures, salinization, land and forest degradation, and desertification—are contributing to pressures on livelihoods, water quality and availability, and food security (IPCC, 2012; Oaks et al. 2019).

Risks associated with climate variability and change are increasingly recognized as drivers of both internal migration and displacement. These risks, when played out against a backdrop of limited economic opportunities and poor governance—including uneven or inequitable delivery of services, and inadequate political representation (e.g., lack of political will, insufficient government service, corruption)—have the potential to further compromise the resilience of political, economic, social and governance systems. While the casual links between climate change and movement are still being established, weather and climate events (e.g., tropical storms, droughts that stretch through multiple growing seasons, widespread flooding) are a contributing factor in movement. For example, according to the 2019 Global Report on Internal Displacement from IDMC, a total of 16.1 million people were displaced by weather-related disasters in 2018, with storms and floods accounting for the highest number of people displaced (IDMC, 2019a). In the first half of 2019 alone, Cyclone Fani triggered more than 3.4 million new displacements in India and Bangladesh, while flash floods and landslides in the Philippines led to the displacement of 405,000 people (IDMC 2019b). Thus, climate change likely acts as a risk multiplier, increasing the frequency, intensity and severity of these events, thereby affecting human behavior and movement.

The spatial and temporal variability of predicted changes in climate, coupled with similar challenges forecasting human mobility patterns creates a set of inherently complex dynamics. The motivations that compel people to move and the processes involved are highly variable, contextually diverse and situationally specific to the location and time of occurrence. Further, these motivations are part of a complex ecosystem closely intertwined with micro- (individual/household) and macro-level (community/sub-national) drivers. Climate variability and change can likely amplify these drivers by influencing the probability, scale and circumstances of the events that drive people to move. It is therefore important for governments and the development community to be prepared to respond in a way that minimizes social and economic disruptions in both receiving communities and the communities of origin – particularly in locations most at risk from climate variability and change.

This study contributes to the growing field exploring adaptation responses to climate-related human movement by: 1) examining the role of climate variability and change and climate-induced hazards as risk multipliers in the context of human movement; and 2) providing practical recommendations for adaptation strategies to support people to remain in their home communities, prepare for and respond to shocks and improve their own and their communities’ adaptive capacities when and where movement does occur. Owing to a lack of literature, it does not delve deeply into specific strategies that receiving communities can use to mitigate the negative impacts of absorbing new populations, and only lightly touches on options for improving the situation of people during movement.

This paper is divided into the following sections: l. Introduction; ll. Framing the Challenge; lll. The Effects of Climate Change on Specific Populations; lV. Adaptation Options to Support Improved Resilience; and V. Lessons Learned. The paper concludes with detailed analyses (Annex A) from four case studies – Bangladesh, Fiji, Kenya and the United States – that each offer context-specific examples of climateinfluenced human movement, and an analysis of the opportunities to connect relevant policy structures to support improved adaptation and resilience of people and communities. These case studies reflect the diversity of environmental risk posed by climate variability and change in different contexts and governance structures and offer important lessons to support future programming.