Launch of ILO 's report on the “Impact of COVID-19 on nexus between climate change and labour migration in selected South Asian countries: An exploratory study”

On 25 January 2022, the ILO launched an exploratory study considering the impact of COVID-19 on the nexus between climate change and labour migration in selected South Asian countries, particularly India, Bangladesh and Nepal. The study aimed to better understand how internal and international migrant workers who moved in the context of climate change have been affected by the outbreak of COVID-19.

News | 31 January 2022
The event was attended by some 180 participants, including ILO constituents, academics, policymakers and students. Michelle Leighton, the chief of ILO’s Labour Migration Branch explained that climate change is an existential threat to the objectives of the sustainable development goals, causing serious disruption to jobs and labour markets, especially in countries of the global South. Both slow-onset or rapid onset climate disasters can compel people to migrate for their livelihoods and to protect their families. She highlighted how the mobility of climate displaced persons can be a positive means to support adaptation if it is well-managed through protecting migrants’ rights, including international labour standards, and explained how the ILO is supporting governments across the world to address the climate crisis along with supporting the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) Warsaw Implementation Mechanism (WIM) Task Force on Displacement and contributing to the guidance adopted by the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC.

Dagmar Walter, Director of the ILO Decent Work Technical Support Team for South Asia and Country Office for India highlighted how South Asia has a history of climate vulnerability, displacement and people migrating in search of better livelihoods for work  and the challenges faced by return migrants due to COVID-19 related lockdown measures.

In his keynote intervention, Ovais Sarmad, Deputy Executive Secretary of the UNFCCC described this study as “a meaningful and timely publication”. He explained how the Glasgow climate pact, the Paris Rulebook to execute the agreement, WIM and other initiatives could contribute towards emission reduction targets and urgently scale up mitigation ambitions and implementations. He also highlighted that according to available data “continued emissions will amplify risk for livelihood, food and human security, which could lead to large scale human migration and displacement”. He concluded his remarks by highlighting that “we should not forget that we are talking about work life of billions of people and every individual counts. Policies and plans should be inclusive and exhaustive to address the needs of each persons including to ensure a just transition.” He emphasised that 2022 will be a critical year for advancing the human mobility and climate change agenda with the first International Migration Review Forum (IMRF) towards the implementation of the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM),  and stressed the need to equip states to respond to the adverse drivers of migration.

Professor Tasneem Siddiqui, Professor and Founding Chair of the Refugee and Migratory Movements Research Unit at the University of Dhaka in Bangladesh highlighted the key findings of the research, especially the way migration trends from climate change impact South Asian countries and how COVID-19 acted as a stress multiplier for migrant workers. She also emphasised the multiple challenges faced by migrant workers upon return to their country or area of origin before highlighting some positive practices developed by South Asian countries and making suggestions to better understand and respond to the needs of climate change induced migrants.

Katy Barwise, Sr Programme Manager, United Nations Network on Migration highlighted how the working group on climate change and migration is supporting member states to integrate these issues as well as to come together towards a common UN voice through the development of operational policy guidance.  She noted that the report and the discussion reflected key principles of the GCM especially the whole-of-society approach, and objective 2 on climate change as a driver for migration and objective 5 on regular pathways. She added that the forthcoming IMRF represents an important opportunity to share these findings further and ensure that this topic is  prioritized moving forward.

The interventions emphasized operationalizing the findings of the study and conducting further country-level empirical research to support effective policy making. Participants also highlighted the need to focus on inclusivity and coherently and holistically addressing vulnerability, looking beyond different kinds of migrant status as “climate change doesn’t just cross borders it also cut across categories”. They also pointed out how this report could encourage reinforced collective actions and leverage the strengths of governments, UN agencies, employers’ organizations, trade unions, and civil society to provide further support to migrant communities that are deeply impacted by the ill-effects of climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic.

Recorded video

The recording of this event can be accessed from this link