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UNFCCC COP 26 Side Event: Climate Impacts as Drivers of Migration: Science, Human Rights and Policy Response

Video statement by Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

11 November 2021 

Thank you for joining us for today’s event, which my Office is pleased to co-sponsor with the European Union and other partners.

The recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is clear: the ecosystems in which we build our lives and our livelihoods are changing at an unprecedented rate. Climate change is already severely affecting a number of human rights including to food,  health, water and sanitation, education and decent work – and even the right to life.

Throughout human history, individuals, families, and communities have used migration as a strategy for adapting to changing environmental conditions. But a rapidly heating climate requires new solutions to ensure that such migration is a choice and not a necessity.

With that in mind, my Office is launching the first report of our new research and capacity building project on human rights, climate change and migration in the Sahel, a region where the severe climate crisis is already driving migration decisions. Its impacts are changing the manner in which people have been accustomed to migrating, and increasing migrants’ exposure to vulnerable situations in transit and at destinations.

There is an urgent need for human rights-based, community led adaptation and mitigation measures in the Sahel, including pathways that enable regular migration as a climate change adaptation strategy.

It is clear that when human rights are affected by climate change, States have an obligation to act – both individually and in cooperation -- to either prevent harm when they can, or to remedy it when they cannot.

Although each State and region experiences climate change in its own way, some of what we observe in the Sahel is true worldwide. This is an emergency with human rights impacts everywhere, often most affecting those least responsible and influencing where and how people migrate. 

Basic principles of justice and equity require that those countries which have contributed the most to climate change support countries most affected, like those in the Sahel, to deploy the policies, resources and technologies they need to mitigate and adapt to this crisis.  

Effective climate solutions empower the people most affected and meaningfully reflect their views, perspectives and active participation.

I hope that today’s conversation will contribute to advancing evidence-based, inclusive and people-centered approaches to climate change-related migration.

My Office stands ready to continue working with States and other stakeholders in developing, enacting, and implementing such policies.