Addressing migration driven by Climate Change: Lessons from COP27

On 01 December 2022, African Centre for Trade and Development (ACTADE) convened a dialogue together with our partner Konrad Adenauer Stiftung (KAS) to explore and advance an understanding of the links between migration and climate change, inclusivity in climate action and facilitating knowledge exchange drawing lessons from COP27 at Golden Tulip Hotel, Kampala.
Participants group photo.

The event was attended by a total of 84 participants. These included high-level representatives from Government specifically; the Climate Change department Ministry of Water, The Parliamentary committee on Climate Change. Development partners, international organisations, private sector, civil society organizations working on issues of Climate change, academia notably MUCCRI and students from Makerere University and media. During the dialogue, attendees shared opinions, thoughts and suggestions for considerations.

Opening remarks

Ms. Susan Nanduddu the Executive Director of ACTADE was on hand to open the conference. She recognised KAS and appreciated the continued partnership with ACTADE and further elaborated the objective of the dialogue which was to facilitate a conversation to further advance and push forward the issue of human mobility induced by Climate change nationally, and also raise awareness of the challenge among stakeholders, as well as Government of Uganda’s response measures including ongoing actions, and make a call for enhanced action while drawing lessons from COP27.

The keynote speaker was Bob Natifu, Assistant Commissioner Climate Change Department-CCD at the Ministry of Water and Energy (MWE). His keynote presentation was titled “Human Mobility and climate change nexus: What is the reality in Uganda?”.  Mr. Bob spoke about a variety of issues impacting migration induced by climate change as well as national-level initiatives designed to address the nexus, and by extension how to build further and better – for instance beyond COP27. He applauded the organisers for convening the such a very important event. He acknowledged that the dialogue was significant and, in many ways, but mostly, allowed distilling through action and response from global to regional and national level. It is critical to keep momentum on the climate change as well as Sustainable development. Bob was cautiously optimistic that addressing the nexus has good intentions for the resilience.

He reasoned that data shows the urgency of addressing the links between Migration Environment and Climate Change (MECC), he sighted that, figures of current population movement show that, in 2021 alone, 2.6 million new disaster displacements occurred in sub-Saharan Africa and, if no action is taken by 2050, climate change impacts could lead to more than 143 million people moving. According to Bob, the environmental dynamics have long been a factor shaping migration in the context of a changing environment. He attributes floods, landslides, as well as slow-onset events and processes, such as severe droughts, increased water levels, environmental degradation, and changing rainfall variability in part lead to human mobility.

How do you maintain ecosystem integrity without compromising individual livelihoods and wellbeing?

Bob argued that, climate change is compounding the problem, threatening ecosystems all over the world and leading to loss and damage and will increasingly drive migration and displacement in the coming decades that will profoundly reshape contemporary migration patterns in more diverse ways.

He emphasised that, there has been growing effort at both global, regional and national levels to address this nexus. Since 2015 significant progress has been made in integrating MECC into key international frameworks and commitments notably: the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable development, 2015 agenda framework for DRR, and the Global Compact for safe and regular migration adopted in 2018, including stronger commitments by states to address the alarming progression of slow onset processes, hazards and challenges of migration management and ensuring people can move out of harm’s way.

At National level, Bob says, the G0vernemnt of Uganda has come up with instruments on cooperation such as the recent Kampala Ministerial Declaration on MECC, Climate Change act. All these frameworks and instruments pave way for an integrated approach that spans preventive action, humanitarian responses and long-term sustainable recovery and development. They also point to the need to take action at the local, national and regional level and in particular the areas at risk and affected communities to avert, minimize and address displacement and to avert regular migration pathways. Recognizing the above, he noted the two key points that binds the Kampala declaration and why it was launched at COP27:

  • It provides a starting point from which the 12 States under Intergovernmental Authority for Development (IGAD) and the East African Community (EAC) can articulate regional priorities with respect to the adverse impacts of climate change on human mobility.
  • The desire to have the declaration presented to COP27 had strong validity, because the UNFCCC Conferences of Parties represented a very significant opportunity to raise the issues of interest to the African continent.

What is the focus of the Kampala Ministerial declaration?

According to Bob, the declaration places an urgent call for enhanced cooperation and action to address these major areas of concern;the progressive desertification and land degradation creating forced mobility of people and livestock; the unsustainable use of ecosystems and the impact of frequent and intense extreme weather events and by extension our well-being; the unplanned migration of people from rural to urban centres as a result of climate change and disasters, and; the limitations of partnerships and financing to respond to the climate crisis adversely affecting the mobility of our people and livestock in the region.

He argued that with the Declaration, Government of Uganda aims to; build on existing commitments and action within different spaces, ii) Collectively identify the main aspects of the Migration, Environment and Climate Change nexus relevant to East and Horn of Africa, to which the Declaration explicitly outlines main calls to action, and lastly, making it relevant to the region. According to Bob, the challenge that remains is popularizing it and making it even wider through the African Union, EAC, IGAD and entire continent.

Sharm El Shiek COP27 Outcome? Bob says that “the decision that reference human mobility; Puts forward the Sharm El Shiek implementation plan which acknowledges the human rights of migrants and the impacts of climate change on human mobility including displacement”.

To recap his key note, Bob articulated that, the nexus between Human Mobility and CC is explicit and has significant impact on development aspirations. He recommends; the need to rethinking traditional views and creating a real territorial governance through partnerships between government, local level (main cities), secondary cities, villages, UN agencies, NGOs, CSOs and private sector. Finding the right partners, linking ministries and authorities with migrants, returnees, and specific communities. And, in part bring these issues to the global level at COP28 and beyond and advance policy coherence efforts with a sense of urgency.

Panel discussion

The panelist included; Hon. Lawrence Songa, the Chairperson Parliamentary Forum for Climate Change and Member of Parliament of Ora County in Zombo district; Hakimu Seviiri, Researcher at the Makerere University Climate Change Research Institute (MUCCRI); and Bright Sakwa, a Climate Activist. Susan Nanduddu, moderated the session.

The present picture of Climate migration in Uganda today

To the question on sharing more insights from recent research on climate migration in Uganda, Hakimu briefly highlighted the following:

  • The study was conducted particularly in the most severe areas in the districts of Bududa, Katakwi and Amudat.
  • It documents the vulnerabilities to environmental and climate hazards and disasters and how they induce migration in Uganda;
  • It examines the existing policy and legal framework with respect to the migration, environment and climate change nexus and offers guidance on mainstreaming migration in Uganda.

Hakimu argued that both the slow-onset and sudden-onset climatic and environment changes have strong influence on the population migration patterns but in different ways and on the other end, sudden onset events such as floods and landslides for example, in Bududa and in some areas of Teso subregion, often cause destruction of livelihoods and displace the affected population who have to leave their homes temporarily but, in some cases, also permanently.

According to Hakimu, whereas planned relocation is a necessary intervention for people who are displaced by disasters and those inhabiting in high disaster risk areas, the relocation for displaced persons is still a challenge in Uganda. He noted that people who were relocated for example, to areas of Kiryadongo and Bulambuli, tend to return to their areas of origin. What compounds the problem is the lack of guidelines to provide direction in mainstreaming migration in the development policy and framework, as well as orientation of communities of the destination areas. This he says, leads to serious battles of resources and it’s crucial that migration is mainstreamed into local development plans and adaptation strategies, most especially for districts where out and in migration take place to enable them better manage migration and integrate migrants.

On Climate migration data, Hakimu echoed that data is fragmented. There is very little data available to support the linkage between Migration, Environment and Climate Change, plus there is no programmatic experience or evidence on the scale and routes of environmental migration and displacement and that data sharing protocols vary. He reported that through their research, they contacted Uganda Bureau of Standards (UBOS) for data on Climate migration but regrets that for close to a year, they are yet to respond. He argues government to urgently interest itself with the data in order to inform her interventions.

Building a positive narrative on climate migration action

Directed at Hon. Songa, Susan asks “you have led successful conversations about Climate change for a long time with most notable, the Climate Change bill and now we have the Climate Change Act, I am curious to know whether you have been interacting with climate migration as an issue in your docket and in your own view from your significant experiences, what action needs to be prioritised in preparation of the increasing number of migrants.”

Hon. Songa, opens up the conversation by acknowledging that MECC concerns, noting that it’s becoming very serious. He called for need to address the root causes of climate migration. We are facing environmental and ecosystem degradation driven mainly by human activity that undermines resilience to natural hazards, disasters and delivery of ecosystem service. According to Hon. Songa, the widespread deforestation, encroachment on wetlands, protected areas and river banks, biodiversity loss are all environmental threats that reduce productivity of the ecosystem, causing livelihood hardships thus driving migration. There is need to encourage community participation in natural resource management and ensure proper coordination from several actors like CSO and government.

Financing is still a challenge but argued that, there are efforts by Government of Uganda and Development partners to create a climate change fund. “How do we access the fund when it’s finally incorporated”, Susan counters. It is essential to foster inter-agency and inter-ministerial coordination and cooperation on migration across MDAs, in order to enhance coherent policymaking for migration and adaptation to prevent forced migration in the context of climate change, a common platform or forum should be formed and operationalized to enhance coordination of migration in government MDAs with the active involvement of development partners, academia and civil society.

What opportunities can be leveraged as of decisions from COP27?

Bright highlighted some of the interventions he has done, notably his work in Kiryadongo refugee camp where he has worked with refugees on issues around climate change. Reflecting on COP27 to which he participated, Sakwa happily noted that, climate mobility is starting to get the recognition it deserves. He noted that at COP27, there was a pavilion on Climate mobility, adding that this was very important and significant since it brings different actors to learn from each other. He argued that, if lessons are transferred to the local level should lead to or create opportunities for the local people.

He added that the Adaptation Fund launched its midterm strategy 2023-2027. It calls for innovations around how climate finance can be mobilized and accessed. He also recounted on a historic decision on loss and damage was passed. Considering that climate refugees face a lot of damages, in part this can be utilized to support their recovery once the fund is available. He also added that financial resources are increasingly being mobilized to strengthen adaptation and resilience, which he noted are some of the opportunities that actors in Climate change should leverage.

General discussions and recommendations.

Ms. Daisy Namono of the Baha’i faith, observed that environment degradation is basically a result of materialistic approach, to which most of the actions are to benefit us as humans and that Climate change seems to be portrayed as a burden of the poor. She recommended the need to focus on building a balance of the scientific approaches, and government needs to address the narrative, and have a discussion on energy and addressing structural issues.

Susan from Climate Action Network (CAN-U), stressed the need to focus on ecosystem services and making them accessible.

Participants also decried the lack of funding. Some also questioned the effectiveness of the Local Governments capacity in addressing the issues of MECC, stressing the need for government to address the capacity needs gap and support LGs.

Participants conceded to the fact that the MECC is not properly understood and less recognised at both national and local level in Uganda, and that there’s need to raise policy and public awareness on the complex MECC nexus.

There’s need to foster a coordinated approach among all stakeholders across all sectors on MECC in order to inform different interventions being done by the different actors therefore enhancing a coherent and active involvement of government, development partners, CSO’s and academia.

Closing remarks

Mr. Ojok Okello, Program Officer at KAS, informed the participants that KAS, a new program on Migration was initiated in 2022 in recognition of the need to increase the visibility and action towards this vulnerable group. He noted revealed that recently, together with ACTADE, an event reflecting on their rights to decent work highlighted the many challenges that refugees experience while trying to access decent jobs. Considering that climate change will trigger a lot more migration, there is need for enhanced action both at source, and the places they relocate to. He invited the participants to engage with KAS either directly, or through ACTADE, to deliver more innovative responses in this space. In closing, he appreciated all the participants that attended the workshop