A devastating convergence of conflict and climate change is driving displacement and making life even more precarious for those forced to flee.

There is now a clear link between climate-related emergencies and forced displacement, increasing pressure on leaders to step up support for people forced to flee.

During the UN Climate Change Conference (COP26) held in Glasgow, UNHCR called for more assistance for the countries and communities most affected by  the climate emergency yet most neglected in terms of support.

“Most of the people we support are from countries on the frontlines of the climate emergency or they are being hosted in states equally impacted,” said Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees.

“They face climate-related disasters like floods, droughts and desertification. This destroys livelihoods, stokes conflict, and has forced people to move. We urgently need new thinking, innovation, funding from the wealthiest, and political will just to contain the situation – let alone improve things.”

Members of the Refugee Fire Brigade use branches to beat out a large bushfire near the Mauritanian border with Mali. The fire brigade was established in 2020 with the support of UNHCR and local non-governmental organisation SOS Desert. The fires have become more frequent and dangerous as a result of climate change. ©UNHCR/Colin Delfosse

Pictured, a woman and three children, Somali refugees. Worsening drought as well as violence from armed extremist group al Shabaab have caused more than 5,000 Somalis to seek refuge in Ethiopia so far this year. The extremists have struck fear into the hearts of many and the climate emergency has fuelled a cycle of vulnerability for pastoralists and farmers. © UNHCR/Eduardo Soteras Jalil

While in Glasgow, UNHCR’s Special Advisor on Climate Action, Andrew Harper, highlighted the impact of climate change on the displaced.

Ninety per cent of refugees under UNHCR’s mandate and 70 per cent of the internally displaced are from vulnerable countries least able to adapt. Millions more people are forced from their homes every year in disasters.

“We can’t wait for more COPs and more unfulfilled commitments. The displaced and their hosts need help now – to build resilience to resist the looming increase in extreme weather events.”

In Afghanistan, rising temperatures and droughts have exacerbated the effects of 40 years of war, worsening food shortages in a country with over 3.5 million people internally displaced.

In Mozambique, insurgency has forced 730,000 to flee as the country reels from cyclones.

In the Sahel, temperatures are rising 1.5 times faster than the rest of the world, and climate-related impacts are increasing competition for resources in areas where armed groups already exploit weak governance, poverty and ethnic tensions.

UNHCR works in 130 countries delivering protection and assistance, and supporting displaced and host communities to adapt and create solutions in the increasingly inhospitable climate.

To better protect people who have already fled from conflict and whose lives are being affected by climate change, UNHCR is calling on States to make all possible efforts to curb the devastating humanitarian consequences of the climate emergency by taking the following actions:

  • Increase financial, technological and capacity support to avert, minimise and address displacement related to the adverse effects of climate change.
  • Drastically reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avert worst-case scenarios and avoid devastating consequences, including displacement. States must stick to their commitment to limit warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius and secure global net-zero by mid-century.
  • Provide support to vulnerable countries and displaced communities who have contributed least to climate change but have the fewest resources to prepare and adapt. This includes increasing access to sustainable and predictable climate financing to scale up prevention and preparedness measures. Such funding would help avert, minimise and address displacement related to climate change as a form of loss and damage.
  • Ensure the inclusion, meaningful participation and leadership of displaced voices in climate research, adaptation and mitigation efforts.

UNHCR’s Special Advisor on Climate Action, Andrew Harper, visits a solar farm in Mbera camp for Malian refugees in Mauritania. During his visit in October, refugees, Mauritanians and local authorities told him how climate change had transformed the region, pushing already vulnerable communities into poverty and food insecurity. ©UNHCR/Colin Delfosse

“The world is finally waking up to the fact that climate change is an emergency for everyone, everywhere. The stark reality, though, is those who did the least to contribute to it are already suffering the most.” - Filippo Grandi

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