State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


Task Force Presents Advice to U.S. on Climate and Global Migration

Tens or hundreds of millions of people may be displaced by climate-related disasters and environmental changes in coming decades. Here, a canal in low-lying southern Bangladesh, one of the most vulnerable countries. (Kevin Krajick/Earth Institute)

A task force of prominent former federal government and UN officials, nonprofit leaders and climate experts today called for dramatic U.S. policy measures to address the global climate crisis and its impact on human migration. Among other things, the report urges increased aid to other countries to help populations adapt; aid for planned resettlement efforts abroad and at home; and dropping some immigration barriers so that more migrants can enter the United States.

The task force report is a response to a February 4 U.S. presidential executive order that directs national security adviser Jake Sullivan to deliver options to the president by August “for protection and resettlement of individuals displaced directly or indirectly from climate change,” and options for policy measures on a range of related objectives. The report will be delivered to a working group at the State Department.

Researchers say that tens to hundreds of millions of people may be displaced over the next few decades due to disasters and environmental changes related to climate. In countries including Honduras, Bangladesh and Burkina Faso, climate-related disasters are already leading to protracted displacement.

Eric Schwartz, co-chair of the task force and former U.S. assistant secretary of state for population, refugees and migration, said, “The magnitude and scope of the climate crisis demands dramatic policy measures, including historic increases in U.S. support for disaster risk reduction and climate adaptation, and new protections for refugees and others who will be on the move.”

One member of the task force is Alex DeSherbinin, a senior scientist at Columbia University’s Center for International Earth Science Information Network who studies climate-related migration.  “Climate will increase the propensity of people to leave their own countries. These policy proposals are definitely a step in the right direction,” said DeSherbinin. He added, “The fundamental issues around migration are among the most politically fraught in our country right now.” He predicted that while the recommendations would get a strong hearing from the Biden administration, there might be more appetite for helping other countries induce people to stay home, rather than facilitating migration to the United States.

Among the task force’s recommendations:

  • A commitment to provide $1 billion in support for global disaster risk reduction—an increase in existing U.S. support by over $500 million annually—and support for a new Global Risk Reduction and Resilience fund.
  • An increase by 60 percent, to up to $4 billion, in funding for international climate change programming, with a focus on adaptation, plus targeted development assistance and financing of local communities in affected countries.
  • New measures to protect and resettle refugees coming from climate-impacted regions.
  • Resettlement and asylum for forced migrants who do not meet the refugee definition, but who are unable to return safely to their countries due to disasters resulting from the effects of climate change.
  • Use of temporary protected status to protect victims of disasters exacerbated by the effects of climate change, along with legislation that would authorize the administration to provide a pathway to permanent residence and citizenship for groups who have had this status for more than five years.
  • Expansion of traditional migration pathways for labor, education and family reunification in order to respond to migration pressures resulting from climate change.
  • Encouraging the UN to adopt principles recognizing internal displacement within a country’s own borders, and encouraging World Bank efforts to direct funding to support internally displaced people.
  • Provision of international financial support for planned relocation initiatives, and strengthening of support for planned relocation efforts within the United States.

Members of the 14-person task force come from a wide variety of organizations including Refugees International, the Church World Service, and a half-dozen universities and think tanks. Previously, a number of them served in the U.S. departments of State and Justice, and at the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Adapted from a press release by Refugees International.

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