BANGKOK - With extreme weather pounding countries across a wide arc in the Asia-Pacific region, questions hover over entitlements for millions of people displaced by climate change, pledged under the Green Climate Fund (GCF) and other sources.
Will the long wait by climate change migrants – including the 42 million people displaced by storms, floods and droughts in Asia and the Pacific during 2010 and 2011 – be finally over? Will they be able to tap international aid to help them adapt to extreme weather?
The International Organization of Migration (IOM) hopes it is so as it sets its sights on the annual United Nations climate change summit to be held in Qatar later this year.
The Geneva-based body is looking to the 18th session of the Conference of the Parties (CoP 18) of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change to deliver on a breakthrough that emerged at the end of acrimonious negotiations at the CoP 16, held in the Mexican resort of Cancun in December 2010.
At Cancun, government leaders from over 190 countries affirmed that climate change migrants qualify for assistance from the GCF. A paragraph of the Cancun Adaptation Framework said victims of "climate change induced displacement (and) migration" are eligible for the billions of dollars pledged by the GCF.
"The IOM is pushing to implement this para at the next CoP in Qatar," says Diana Ionesco, migration policy office at IOM, referring to paragraph 14f in the Cancun document. "Migration can now be part of the global adaptation strategy, which was not the case before Cancun."
"We want people who have been victims of climate change – including those who cannot move – to benefit from this new policy that has recognized migration as part of the climate change adaptation framework," she told IPS. "It opens the way to apply for adaptation-related funding to help migrants."
Following the negotiations at the CoP 15 in Copenhagen, the GCF produced a blueprint unveiled the following year in Cancun to start dispensing funds by 2020. It will finance projects using green-friendly technologies, help communities adapt to climate change and promote ways of mitigating the impact of greenhouse gases responsible for global warming.
A 2010 report by U.N. secretary-general Ban ki-Moon’s climate financing advisory group estimates that 100 billion dollars a year would be needed for a raft of climate change initiatives in the developing world.
This estimate dwarfs the amounts dispensed by the Global Environmental Facility (GEF), a 1991 financial organization backed by over 180 governments and international development institutions, that, till now, has been one of the leading financiers of green-friendly projects in the developing world.
GEF has pumped in 10 billion dollars in direct financing and 47 billion dollars in co-financing in over 2,800 projects in over 168 developing countries.
For its part, the IOM had even more limited resources to assist migrants who are victims of humanitarian emergencies - the 6.5 million dollar IOM development fund for 2012 and the newly established IOM migration emergency fund in 2011, which aimed to raise 30 million dollars.
The marginalization of climate change migrants during adaptation negotiations at the CoPs stems from the political implications of who a climate change migrant is. Neither IOM nor the United Nations refugee agency use the term "climate refugees" to describe people displaced by natural disasters.
"Very often when we talk about adaptation we don’t talk about migration," says Francois Gemenne, climate and migration research fellow at the Paris-based Institute for Sustainable Development and International Relations. "It is seen as too complicated and too sensitive."
"Migration will only become a fatality if we don’t address it today," he added during a recent panel discussion held in the Thai capital on ‘Climate Induced Migration and Livelihood Security’. "We need to guarantee people the right to stay for those who want to stay and also provide migration options for those who want to leave."
Their growing numbers in the Asia-Pacific region makes this vulnerable community hard to ignore, argues the Asian Development Bank (AsDB), the Manila-based regional financial institution in a recent report, ‘Addressing Climate Change and Migration in Asia and the Pacific’.
The estimated 42 million people who were displaced by environmental disasters in 2010 and 2011 confirms that "the environment is becoming a significant driver of migration in Asia and the Pacific as the population grows in vulnerable areas, such as low-lying coastal zones and eroding river banks," says Bindu Lohani, the Bank’s vice-president for knowledge management and sustainable development.
"Migration should be viewed as one component of a broader adaptation strategy, and a tool with which to strengthen the resilience of those who remain in communities threatened by environmental challenges," he adds.
Yet a financial challenge for adaptation looms in the Asia-Pacific region. While the annual climate adaptation costs for the region would reach 50 billion dollars in 2050, "less than 10 percent of that has been available to date," according to the AsDB.
"It is unclear what kind of policy interventions will be available for funding under the GCF," notes AsDB’s 81-page report. "A key challenge for future negotiations will be in making (paragraph 14f) operational, determining how adaptation funding can be attributed to policies related to climate-induced migration."
"The Qatar CoP should open the way to apply for funding for adaptation-related projects," asserts IOM’s Ionesco. "We need funds to prevent forced migrations and to provide assistance to prepare for migration."