Migrants can be climate action champions

December 18, 2023
Woman in traditional dress stands by seaside.

Senegalese communities are battling with the impacts of climate change, from drought, flooding, sea-level rise and coastal erosion. UNDP works with authorities investing in projects that contribute to mitigating the drivers of emigration and promoting the sustainable reintegration of returning migrants.

Photo: UNDP Senegal

When we think of migration in the context of climate change, it is most often in relation to the thousands, or even millions, of people displaced by extreme weather. 

The numbers, while true, only paint part of the picture. What is lesser known is the fact that migrants are playing a vital role in building resilience and adaptation to climate change, while also contributing to sustainable growth and an economy that is not based on fossil fuels and overconsumption of natural resources.

On the climate crisis frontlines

In some of the world's most climate-vulnerable countries, like Haiti, Honduras and Nepal, remittances sent from international migrants to their families back home account for over 20 percent of GDP. These investments help diversify livelihoods, support resilience and reduce pressure on local communities by lowering levels of poverty and food insecurity, and improving access to education. When disasters hit, migrants not only support their families through remittances, but also contribute to mobilizing investment in healthcare and reconstruction. Migrants are also engaged in climate adaptation projects, such as providing access to water and sustainable energy.

Senegalese communities are battling with the impacts of climate change, from drought, locust plagues, flooding, sea-level rise and coastal erosion. UNDP works with the International Organization for Migration in Senegal to help authorities invest in local improvement projects that contribute to mitigating the drivers of emigration and promoting the sustainable reintegration of returning migrants, including creating new economic opportunities in agro-ecological farming and sustainable tourism.

In November 2021, Uzbekistan was engulfed by the worst dust storm since the country started keeping meteorological records in 1871. To enhance the resilience of local communities while also addressing climate change induced events such as dust storms, UNDP works with the government in the Surkhandarya region, bordering Afghanistan, to hire Afghan migrants, including refugees, and their host communities to help plant trees and restore forests.

In Moldova, UNDP has linked emigrants with their home communities through engaging diasporas in promoting local tourism, thus strengthening livelihoods, boosting local development and protecting the environment. Businesses are encouraged to invest in ecological and environmentally friendly products. One creative entrepreneur has developed a “bee therapy” retreat, where tourists can sleep above beehives to energize body and soul. 

Filling gaps in green transitions

The UN Climate Change Conference COP28 took place last week in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, amidst mounting pressure to push global climate action further and keep the 1.5°C target of the Paris Agreement alive. What was mostly missing from the conversation was the role international migrants can play in supporting that vital agenda. 

As countries increasingly transform their economies to become greener and more sustainable, employment opportunities for migrants are created. According to the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), there is a critical shortage of green energy experts working on advancing global decarbonization. BCG has calculated the skills gap in the green economy will rise to seven million by 2030, with greatest demand in solar, wind and biofuels technologies. 

Many of the jobs could be filled by migrant workers if governments invest in vocational training in their home countries and create regular migration pathways for them to access visas and work elsewhere. Such skills partnerships can benefit countries of origin and destination alike. 

International Migrants Day

Global efforts to mobilize international migrants and diasporas for climate action can get a boost early next year. The Global Forum on Migration and Development (GFMD) is a state-led process that helps shape the global debate on making international migration work for sustainable development. Under France's chairmanship, the “impact of climate change on human mobility” will be the overarching topic at the 14th GFMD Summit in January 2024, in Geneva. 

Every year on 18 December, the world marks International Migrants Day, a day set aside to recognize the important contribution of migrants, while also highlighting the challenges they face. 

If governments and other stakeholders, especially the private sector, can remove barriers to migration, create incentive, build skills and provide opportunities, the economic, social and cultural contributions that international migrants make to their countries of origin and destination can be harnessed towards a low-carbon, greener future that will be welcome in climate change-affected countries around the world.