Climate change, displacement and labour migration

© S. Chakraborty/Mountain Partnership 2018
Climate change has been called the single greatest risk for the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals. There is increasing evidence of climate change becoming an additional driver of migration, both internal and across borders.  In the case of slow onset events, climate variables interact with other key drivers, including lack of decent work and employment opportunities, weak governance, and intercommunity violence, etc. The sectors that employ the majority of workers are also some of the most vulnerable to climate change. When livelihoods are compromised and if survival is at stake, people migrate in search for better opportunities. This is an increasing trend, particularly among young persons.

In the context of climate change, migration is most often viewed as an adaptation failure. However, migration can be an important adaptive response for people facing slow onset environmental changes or disasters. ILO’s past experience has shown that labour migration when governed in accordance to international labour standards can play an important role in the development of both countries  of origin and destination.

Labour migration can be used to boost resilience in communities through the generation of remittances, the transfer of knowledge and skills and the development of networks that can lead to entrepreneurship and new markets. If migrants crossing borders due to climate-related factors can do so through safe and regular channels and can access format employment opportunities, they are more likely to contribute positively to their home country’s development.  At the same time, migration may reduce population pressure on climate-stressed environments and could benefit destination countries by helping to fill labour shortages. Well-managed and rights-based labour mobility and adaptation policies can provide an opportunity to boost resilience and enhance development while reducing the risk of future displacement.

Addressing decent work deficits and their interaction with climate-related impacts as root causes of migration can help make migration a choice, not a necessity. The ILO is well positioned to work alongside states and regional groups to consider the role of labour migration within climate adaptation strategies, and in contributing to a just transition towards environmentally sustainable economies. The ILO Multilateral Framework for labour migration also offer guidance and advice to constituents on the many facets of labour migration and could serve as a tool for the promotion, ratification and implementation of policies.

The ILO has also participated in international efforts through UNFCCC and the Conferences of Parties (COP). In addition, a recent MOU was signed with UNCCD to combat desertification and migration related challenges. ILO is also taking part in Task Force on Displacement under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage. In addition, ILO is contributing to Platform on Disaster Displacement (PDD) through implementation of regional and integrated projects and plans of action.

To fully leverage the development of decent work opportunities abroad, a growing number of countries have begun establishing national labour migration policies or action plans that reflect the needs of populations heavily impacted by climate change variables. The ILO provides technical support to those countries to meet their development objectives through training, advice, and support for implementation of interventions to promote decent work opportunities both at home and abroad.

A combined action is necessary to address climate change related issues. The development of green job opportunities development can be pursued alongside interventions to improve the governance of labour migration and the protection of migrant workers to mitigate climate change related adverse effects. ILO labour migration branch is currently working along with green jobs and other technical branches on climate change and labour migrating related projects.