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Climate and migration

Resolution 2401 (2021)

Parliamentary Assembly
Assembly debate on 29 September 2021 (28th sitting) (see Doc. 15348, report of the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons, rapporteur: Mr Pierre-Alain Fridez). Text adopted by the Assembly on 29 September 2021 (28th sitting).
1. The Parliamentary Assembly is deeply alarmed by the dramatic effects of climate change and their impact on the lives of millions of people in Europe and beyond. Extreme events are on the rise. Record temperature levels have been measured recently on the Antarctic ice sheet, the world's largest freshwater reserve. Its complete melting would cause sea levels to rise considerably. If global warming continues, the consequences are known: flooding of coastal areas and deltas, the outright disappearance of many islands, an increase in the number of territories affected by drought and desertification making life impossible and forcing tens of millions of unfortunate people who have lost everything to find food and more hospitable land within or outside their country. This phenomenon will be destabilising and could lead to tensions, conflicts and even war.
2. Current efforts to limit climate change are not sufficient. The results will not be seen for decades. Millions of people, however, are already being forced to migrate. They cannot afford to wait until climate change is reversed. We should, therefore, act as a matter of urgency to prevent mass displacement caused by climate change and help those on the move to survive and live dignified lives in their host countries. In doing so, we should also bear in mind the need to do all it takes to secure – in Europe and beyond – the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment. This right should become a reality as soon as possible for people to feel safe enough to live in their homeland, wherever this is.
3. The Assembly welcomes the Joint Declaration on human rights and the environment issued on 15 May 2020 by the Georgian, Greek and German presidencies of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe, underscoring that life and well-being on our planet is contingent on humanity’s collective capacity to guarantee both human rights and a healthy environment to future generations.
4. Adequate solutions are needed to help meet the challenges related to migration caused by climate change. New human rights protection instruments are necessary for an effective implementation of the human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment, which could also protect migrants moving in search of such a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment.
5. This “new generation” human right should also be embedded in international instruments that influence migration – from disaster preparedness and climate adaptation instruments to economic development strategies, energy production and trade agreements. The actions taken must ensure that a gender-responsive approach is fully integrated into the design and implementation of all projects and programmes. The Green Climate Fund provides guidance and has produced a practical manual entitled “Mainstreaming Gender in Green Climate Fund Projects” that supports the integration of gender equality into climate change interventions and climate finance.
6. The Assembly underscores the importance of joining forces to strengthen human rights protection for those affected by climate change-induced migration in Europe and beyond, acting on the following pillars: ensuring human rights protection for people who are forced to migrate because of climate change-induced disasters or hardship; using science and technology to serve people and save lives; improving development co-operation and emergency support in migrants’ countries of origin; and preventing environmental degradation that multiplies the effects of climate change.
7. In order to ensure human rights protection for people who are forced to migrate because of climate change-induced disasters or hardship, the Assembly:
7.1 notes the current pressure within the UN Human Rights Council to recognise the human right to a healthy environment, building, inter alia, on the decision of the UN Human Rights Committee in the Kiribati case on cross-border movement of individuals seeking protection from climate change-related harm;
7.2 recalls its recommendations formulated in Resolution 2307 (2019) “A legal status for ‘climate refugees’” and calls for a legal status for people displaced or migrating for climate-related reasons. It notes that the term “refugee” falls within the remit of the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol and has a specific legal status linked to persecution on the five enumerated grounds of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. However, there is a need to develop specific policies to protect people who are forced to move as a consequence of climate change. In this respect, the “Legal considerations regarding claims for international protection made in the context of the adverse effects of climate change and disasters” issued by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees provide valuable guidelines for assessing those in need of protection;
7.3 calls for a people-centred, human rights-based and systemic approach to deal with climate migration. Human rights legal frameworks can effectively guide States in designing policies that prevent displacement, protect people during displacement and allow people to move in safety and dignity;
7.4 asks Council of Europe member States to provide adequate protection to those who raise awareness about environmental degradation that may lead to mass displacement, whether these be whistle-blowers, civil society organisations, journalists or other stakeholders. It welcomes the European Union Directive on the protection of persons who report breaches of Union law (Directive (EU) 2019/1937 of 23 October 2019) and invites non-EU Council of Europe member States to implement similar instruments at national level, ensuring the highest possible protection for those who often risk their lives for the public good;
7.5 welcomes the UN Human Rights Council’s actions aimed at raising the awareness of the global community about the effects of climate change and human rights protection needs of those who are particularly vulnerable and who are forced to migrate by climate change-induced disasters. Climate change and migration policies and programmes should meet the needs of vulnerable groups who are disproportionally affected by climate change, such as persons living in coastal areas, indigenous people, minorities, older persons, women and girls, children and persons with disabilities;
7.6 welcomes the focus of the 2021 edition of the Council of Europe’s World Forum for Democracy on the environment and climate change and its effect on human rights and democracy. In the framework of the Forum’s “12 Months, 1 Question” campaign, the Assembly notes the attention paid to disasters, displacement and climate change during the month of February 2021, during which the Special Representative of the Secretary General on Migration and Refugees, Ambassador Drahoslav Štefánek, called climate change one of the biggest challenges for humankind and argued that climate change can result in climate refugees, displacing thousands, even millions, in the future.
8. As regards the use of science and technology to serve people and save lives, the Assembly:
8.1 calls for the better use of science and technology to improve communication on and predictability of migration trends. States should undertake, both nationally and internationally, a side-by-side mapping of climate change and migration, using the latest developments in science and technology. Merging dynamic mapping of climate change with dynamic mapping of migration would help determine migration trends and build reliable predictions. Policy makers would have a clearer picture of where people are likely to move from (regions/countries), where they are likely to go, in what numbers and when;
8.2 urges member States to improve responses to major hazards (hydrological, geophysical, meteorological, etc.) and improve early-warning mechanisms and ecosystem services – whether these be supply services (fresh water, raw materials), regulating services (water purification, disease prevention) or cultural and economic services (such as tourism to ensure protection against job losses);
8.3 calls for the enhancement of corporate responsibility and the participation of businesses – including the most technologically advanced companies – in displacement prevention. The role of businesses is crucial: they lead development and technological innovation and provide stable sources of income for migrants and their families.
9. Development co-operation is essential for new initiatives to become reality. However, such co-operation requires sufficient resources, expertise, organisation and commitment from all countries involved in the process. To improve development co-operation and emergency support in migrants’ countries of origin in Europe and beyond, the Assembly:
9.1 invites member States to strengthen development co-operation to respond to security issues that individuals face: from safe access to food and water to personal and political security, energy security and global and environmental security;
9.2 calls for greater support for relevant global programmes, such as the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, and those implemented under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration and the Global Compact on Refugees. The Assembly invites member States to pay particular attention to the work of the UN Secretary-General’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment;
9.3 calls upon member States to initiate and contribute to the creation of a world solidarity fund for climate migration that would assist both migrants’ countries of origin and host countries. The international community needs to step up development co-operation with the countries that are most at risk of being affected by climate change, such as the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa and the Sahel region, to improve the living conditions of people living there so that they do not feel forced to migrate. This Europe-based fund could co-operate with the Green Climate Fund (GCF), following accreditation by the GCF, which would be a major step forward in meeting international commitments to “leave no one behind”, including migrants, in a world affected by climate change. Specific programmes should be developed, engaging experts from all Council of Europe member States to drive forward technological developments in countries receiving development assistance and in countries providing assistance. The world solidarity fund for climate migration could also support migrants themselves, in addition to projects designed to improve living conditions in their countries of origin;
9.4 reiterates its call for co-operation with the Council of Europe Development Bank (CEB), as set out in its Resolution 2307 (2019). To meet the challenges posed by climate-induced migration in Europe, Council of Europe member States can now use the two trust funds managed by the CEB: the Migrant and Refugee Fund established in 2015 and the Green Social Investment Fund established in March 2020;
9.5 invites members of parliament to remain vigilant to ensure that a gender-responsive approach is integrated into the design and implementation of projects and programmes on climate change-induced migration.
10. Council of Europe member States should act resolutely to prevent environmental degradation that multiplies the effects of climate change and may lead to mass displacement. To prevent environmental degradation, the Assembly:
10.1 calls upon all member States to refrain from developing major industrial projects that may have dramatic consequences on peoples’ lives, when there is an undeniable risk that these projects could multiply the negative effects of climate change on either their own territory or that of another member State. The respect of a human right to a safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment should be a primary consideration;
10.2 underscores, in particular, the importance of access to quality drinking water as an intrinsic part of a healthy and sustainable environment and a basic human right, and calls upon member States to prevent environmental degradation that may endanger access to water on their own territory or on the territory of a neighbouring State. In doing so, all necessary steps should be taken to comply with international obligations on environmental matters in the framework of the United Nations 1991 Convention on Environmental Impact Assessment in a Transboundary Context (Espoo Convention). When issues related to access to water arise between neighbouring countries or regions, international negotiations should lead to finding appropriate solutions in accordance with international human rights standards and practices.