Climate Change and Human Mobility in Africa: The African Union’s Approach

May 17, 2023

by Conrad Akunzirwe

Climate change has become a pressing global challenge with far-reaching impacts, including on human mobility. This happens either directly or indirectly through factors such as natural disasters, rising sea levels, and increased competition over natural resources. In Africa, where vulnerable communities are disproportionately affected by the adverse effects of climate change, the issue of climate change-related human mobility has emerged as a critical concern. With rising temperatures, more frequent and intense extreme weather events, and growing scarcity of natural resources, vulnerable populations in Africa are forced to adapt or migrate in search of better living conditions. As highlighted in the IPCC’s AR6 Synthesis Report, Africa is one of the regions with the largest observed impacts to food and water security, and one where climate and weather extremes are increasingly driving displacement.

The African Union’s approach

The African Union (AU), as a regional organization representing the interests of African states, has recognized the significance of the issue of human mobility and has taken significant steps to address it. The AU has made efforts and strategies in addressing climate change-related human mobility in Africa through its policies, plans, and processes, as well as its collaborations with international organizations. The Agenda 2063, the AU’s long-term vision for Africa, acknowledges the impact of climate change on the continent's socio-economic development and highlights the need to build resilience and adapt to its effects. In addition to the AU’s initiatives, the Union collaborates with international organizations such as the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to strengthen capacity-building, research, and policy development on migration, environment, and climate change in Africa by leveraging the expertise and resources of these international partners.

Through its policy frameworks, conventions, specialized agencies, and collaborations with international organizations, the AU is making concerted efforts to build resilience, protect the rights of vulnerable populations, and promote safe and orderly migration in the face of climate change.

The Migration Policy Framework and Action Plan

The Migration Policy Framework for Africa, developed by the AU in 2018, aims to promote safe, orderly, and regular migration in Africa while addressing the challenges posed by climate change and other drivers of migration. The framework recognizes the role of environmental factors in causing population movements and the effect of migrations on the environment. This framework provides a comprehensive strategy for member states to manage migration in a way that ensures the protection of migrants’ rights and addresses the impacts of climate change on migration.

To implement its migration policy framework, the AU has developed the African Union Migration Policy Action Plan, which provides a roadmap for integrating climate change considerations into migration governance and developing strategies to address the impacts of climate change on migration and displacement in Africa. This action plan focuses on several key areas, including data and research, capacity-building, policy development, and cooperation with international partners. It recognizes the need for evidence-based decision-making, capacity-building at all levels, and cooperation among stakeholders to effectively address climate change-related human mobility in Africa. Lastly, it recommends the consideration of environmental factors while developing national and regional migration management policies to better address the environmental causes of migratory movements.

Conventions and declarations

The AU adopted the African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, also known as the Kampala Convention, in 2009. This regional legal instrument aims to protect and assist internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Africa, including those displaced due to climate change-related factors. Article II of the Convention underlines the significance of promoting and strengthening regional and national measures to prevent or mitigate, prohibit, and eliminate root causes of internal displacement as well as provide for durable solutions. This can be accomplished by addressing the primary causes of migration, including climate change.

For instance, policies and initiatives that lower greenhouse gas emissions and support climate adaptation and resilience can help prevent future evictions and defend the rights of individuals impacted by climate change. The convention also emphasizes the importance of international collaboration in protecting and supporting IDPs, which is particularly pertinent to migration brought on by climate change. Given that climate change is a global challenge, addressing its effects on vulnerable populations necessitates coordinated actions from numerous nations and organizations.

Among other works of the AU is the African Union Declaration on Land Issues and Challenges. The impact of climate change on land degradation and community displacement in Africa is acknowledged in this Declaration, which urges the creation of policies and approaches to deal with these problems, especially those involving human mobility. There are also interconnections and potential synergies with sub-regional conventions and policies, such as the East African Community’s (EAC’s) Climate Change Policy Framework, the Protocol on Transhumance of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), or the Kampala Declaration signed in 2022 by twelve countries from the IGAD, EAC, and East and Horn of Africa sub-regions.

African Risk Capacity

In addition to its policy frameworks and conventions, the AU has established the African Risk Capacity (ARC), a specialized agency that provides African countries with tools and resources to manage the risks of climate change and natural disasters, including those that may trigger human mobility. The ARC focuses on disaster risk reduction, early warning systems, and climate resilience, aiming to help African countries anticipate, prepare for, and respond to climate-related crises. By building the capacity of African countries to manage climate risks, the ARC aims to reduce the impacts of climate change on vulnerable populations and minimize the need for displacement.


Despite many efforts, there remain challenges. Climate change-related human mobility is a complex issue that requires multi-faceted solutions. Limited resources, inadequate infrastructure, and limited information about the migration of people and governance issues in some African countries pose significant obstacles to the effective development and implementation of policies and strategies. Additionally, the socio-economic and political dynamics of human mobility, including factors such as conflict, poverty, and inequality, further complicate the situation.

Conclusion and recommendations

To overcome these challenges, continued collaboration and coordination among African countries, regional organizations, and international partners are crucial. Efforts should focus on strengthening capacity-building, research, and policy development on the nexus between migration, environment, and climate change. It is also important to involve local communities, including vulnerable populations, in decision-making processes to ensure that their needs and perspectives are considered.

To summarize, the actions and approaches taken by the AU in response to human displacement caused by climate change in Africa are merited. Through its policy frameworks, conventions, specialized agencies, and collaborations with international organizations, the AU is taking important steps to build resilience, protect the rights of vulnerable populations, and promote safe and orderly migration in the face of climate change. However, challenges remain, and sustained efforts are needed to effectively respond to the complex issue of climate change-related human mobility in Africa. By prioritizing collaboration, capacity-building, and inclusive decision-making, the AU can play a critical role in mitigating the impacts of climate change on human mobility and fostering sustainable solutions for the continent's vulnerable communities.

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About the Author

SLYCAN Trust is a non-profit think tank. It has been a registered legal entity in the form of a trust since 2016, and a guarantee limited company since 2019. The entities focus on the thematic areas of climate change, adaptation and resilience, sustainable development, environmental conservation and restoration, social justice, and animal welfare. SLYCAN Trust’s activities include legal and policy research, education and awareness creation, capacity building and training, and implementation of ground level action. SLYCAN Trust aims to facilitate and contribute to multi-stakeholder driven, inclusive and participatory actions for a sustainable and resilient future for all.