Communities on the move

November 20, 2023

Human mobility induced by climate change has become a key focus area in addressing climate change. From displacement, planned relocation, seasonal migration, as well as internal or international migration, climate impacts heighten the existing vulnerabilities of communities.  At times, human mobility is a way to adapt to adverse impacts of climate change, while at others vulnerable communities are not left with a choice but to move, due to climate threats. To develop holistic approaches to address climate-induced human mobility, it is important to understand the different aspects interlinked – climate and environmental; social; as well as economic – and build synergies to develop intersectional approaches to human mobility and climate change. 

Livelihoods & labour migration

Research provides that Sri Lanka is already facing climate-induced human mobility. From seasonal and temporary internal mobility that seeks to address impacts of climate change through shift of livelihoods;  venturing to areas that would be provide more resources for survival during exacerbated climate threats; or to permanently relocating due to dangers being faced, Sri Lanka presents examples of approaches to addressing climate risk which include moving to rural areas as unskilled labour as well as choosing to migrate in search of employment to address the economic impacts faced by climate change .

Climate change has impacted the patterns related to human mobility. It has also impacted the movement between rural and urban areas, as well as across international borders, including labour migration which could be indicated as a push factor related to climate-induced migration.  

Research on labour migration indicate that there are implications of loss and damage caused by extreme or slow onset events which have resulted in the decision of migrants in choosing to emigrate for foreign employment. From heavy rains impacting the daily labour to being unable to renovate the home that has been damaged due to landslides, many labour migrants are impacted directly or indirectly due to adverse impacts interlinked to climate risk. 

Safe and enabling environment

It is important to ensure that human mobility for economic reasons does not result in further vulnerabilities for the individuals and communities involved. To achieve this, approaches to addressing climate induced human mobility need to focus on those who migrate as well as those who are left behind. It is only then, there would be a possibility to ensure that the choice for seeking to build one’s resilience does not result in exacerbating vulnerabilities

An enabling environment which includes laws and policies; inclusive and participatory decision making on approaches to addressing human mobility and other relevant focuses; social protection systems and support systems becomes very much a necessity. This includes climate policies, as well as sectoral policies and actions which relate to climate action, for coherence in approaches to address human mobility. 

The coordination amongst key actors and developing synergies to scale up existing good practices; better understanding the ground level impacts and realities to ensure evidence-based decision making and planning at all levels i.e. local, regional and national form important components of building long term resilience of communities that are affected by climate risk.  

Building capacity of those affected by climate impacts which could lead to economic empowerment, which could result in enhancing their resilience could contribute to effective climate risk management. This could be through steps that focus on livelihood generation; as well as enhancing one’s safey through relocation and resettlement which will not further threaten the lives of those already vulnerable. It is important to identify and implement gender responsive, inclusive and participatory solutions, through coordinated and collective efforts which are multi-sectoral and multi-actor driven. 

There is no one answer, but approaches that are context-based, building on inputs from communities affected. Through approaches that build on evidence and community engagement collective action could be generated that could contribute to addressing effectively climate-induced human mobility. 

Note: This article has been published on The Morning as part of the author’s weekly column.

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About the Author
Vositha Wijenayake

Vositha is an attorney-at-law specialising in public international law, with a focus on international environmental law, UN human rights law, refugee law and EU law. She has over a decade of experience in working on climate change, at national and international level. Vositha is a member of the national expert committee on climate change adaptation of the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, national expert on vulnerability and adaptation measures for the Third National Communication of Sri Lanka to the UNFCCC for the Ministry of Mahaweli Development and Environment, and is a delegate focusing on compliance, adaptation, loss and damage, and gender for the Sri Lankan delegation to the UNFCCC since 2016. She is also a consultant to the UNFCCC national adaptation plans and policy unit, and worked as a country support consultant to the UNDP NAP Global Support Programme. Vositha has an LLM in public international law from University College London, and an LLB from University of London. ‍