Human mobility, climate change and a just transition

© S. Chakraborty/Mountain Partnership 2018
Climate change will have profound and far-reaching impacts on human mobility, including migration, displacement, and planned relocation.

Weather and climate-related disasters can directly cause displacement. However, changing environmental conditions will also interact with other drivers of migration, including poor working conditions, leading to internal or cross-border movements. Some people will have to move out of communities unable to adapt to changing climatic conditions. Many of the most vulnerable will be unable to move in the face of pervasive impacts of climate change.

For migrants, displaced or relocated populations, their host communities, and those who are left behind, decent work is critical.  It restores their dignity, fosters resilience, enhances adaptive capacity, and empowers them to contribute to sustainable development.

Addressing these pressing environmental challenges requires a simultaneous commitment to a just transition to green economies. This involves structural shifts in labour markets as jobs will be created, lost, substituted, and transformed. Rights-based labour mobility can offer affected workers opportunities to diversify their livelihoods. Simultaneously, it helps address skills shortages in domestic labour markets. Such mobility can benefit countries of origin through the generation of remittances, the transfer of knowledge and skills, and fostering networks that lead to entrepreneurship and the development of new markets.

Yet, migration could transform into maladaptation if migrant workers are exposed to exploitative conditions, denied of their fundamental rights at work, deprived of adequate social protection, and excluded from social dialogue.

Migration for adaptation will not work without decent work. Meanwhile, labour migration can support just transition only when skill development for green jobs is prioritized for all, not only migrants, when employers’ and workers’ organizations are involved in policymaking and when decent work in the green sector is universal.

ILO Response

There is a crucial need for proactive and coherent policies to address the labour dimensions of human mobility in the context of climate change.  The ILO is strategically placed to support governments and workers’ and employers’ organizations in developing such policies. It has been mandated by its constituents to formulate coherent just transition frameworks for labour mobility schemes.

The ILO is actively involved in shaping policies related to climate change, employment, and migration. This includes its co-leadership of the UN Network on Migration workstream on climate change, its membership in the Task Force on Displacement under the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage, and its role on the Advisory Committee of the Platform on Disaster Displacement.

The ILO also works on the ground to support green job creation for climate-affected communities and promote regional dialogue on climate change and labour migration and mobility. Leveraging existing partnerships with employers, workers, and the wider UN system, we aim to enhance the integration of just transitions into migration policies and programmes. Additionally, we strive to develop innovative initiatives recognizing the agency, voice, and rights of migrant workers, accelerating and accompanying these transitions.