– by Tove Lexén –
The Bonn climate conference is over, but there is still some knowledge gained that needs to be shared. One of such is what we learned on the side-event by Wetlands International and International Organisation on Migration: Water stress and human mobility: Freshwater solutions for resilience and peacebuilding held the 7th of May. The seminar focused o the link between migration and water stress caused by climate change. At COP 21, a task force was appointed to work on the connection between climate change and human mobility. This seminar was a side event following up and providing additional facts about this link. In the seminar, experts on ecosystems, water adaptation, refugees and disaster displacement shared their knowledge on the issue. The seminar provided us with new insights and we urge the parties to bring more attention to these issues at the upcoming meetings.
Every year since the enforcement of Agenda 2030 the UN uplift a few of the goals within the framework. This year one of the goals is goal 15 saying it is necessary to: Protect, restore and promote sustainable use of terrestrial ecosystems, sustainably manage forests, combat desertification, and halt and reverse land degradation and halt biodiversity loss. In line with this, the seminar on Tuesday took place.
Before, many of our global challenges has not been connected to each other. Indirect effects of climate change have too often been explained as seasonal changes in weather or ecosystems. For instance, there has been an assumption that water stress is caused by temporary drought and that increasing migration has its source in conflict or a search for improvement of life standards, without reflection on what triggers that in the first place. Lately, this ignorance has been replaced with knowledge and the understanding on the bilateral relation between water and climate or climate and migration has been given attention. However, rather than highlighting these intersections one by one, there is a need to see the whole picture; the multidimensional nexus.The nexus between water stress and human mobility, both caused by climate change was the scope of this seminar. Understanding of the complexity of the casual relationships is key to identify efficient adaptation programmes. E.g. if wanting to prevent conflict, it is not enough to undertake military operations, but reliable water infrastructure and secure energy supply need to be guaranteed. If not, peace will not be persistent.
The seminar in Bonn had four panellists. The first one, Jane Madqwick came from Wetlands International. Madqwick stressed that understanding of the water-related ecosystems is key or enhancing climate resilience, peace-building and security. She explained her case with a few points: in dry areas, for instance the Sahel, people go to the wetlands to find food. Previously, the people have went to the wetlands only occasionally, during the dry seasons. Now, when the time period of dry seasons have extended the flow of people has increased and the pressure on the ecosystem is enhanced. As more people are competing for the same resources, the likelihood for conflict increases. The wetlands have traditionally been zones of peace and cooperation, but as been seen in the case of Chad, that environment is changing. The panellist also emphasised that the stress of resources in the wetlands is an essential contributing factor for the increase of migration to e.g. Europe. However, that has not been given recognition by the European Union or other similar actors. Moreover, she stressed the necessity to widen the scope, to not only focus on where there are conflicts now, but also where they are likely to outbreak. Also, naturally the climate change does not only impact areas around the wetlands but also the wetlands themselves. For instance, many fish species are at risk of extension. Adaption polices need to incorporate smart solutions for water management in the agricultural sector, to enable people to cultivate even in dryer seasons and so decrease the need to go to the wetlands to find food. There is also a need to bring more smart solutions into the water infrastructure. Here, it is important to stress that those programmes do not necessarily have to be heavy technical but traditional knowledge about water management is something to draw upon. The panellist finished her speech by underlining that functioning ecosystems are the perquisite for a sustainable development, for the environment as well as for businesses. Therefore, all kinds of stakeholders must raise their awareness about them.
The second panellist were Ingrid Timboe from Alliance for Global Water Adaptation, AGWA. She mainly focused on how Nature-Based Solutions, NBS can help to increase human and ecosystem resilience. NBS is an umbrella concept for several solutions to meet extreme weather events, for instance plantation of mangrove trees or installation of sand banks in areas vulnerable to flooding. Timboe had two dimensions of her talk, the environmental and the human resilience, and they go hand in hand. For instance, when the mangrove forest is lost that impact people’s possibilities to cultivate. It also makes people more exposed to extreme climate events such as tsunamis. In short, it reduces community resilience. The consequence is that people need to move elsewhere to find jobs. Naturally, and as highlighted by the previous speaker, the risk of conflict advance when more people are on the same place and want access to the same natural resources. The problem for community resilience is also the grey industry. That is, the traditional water infrastructure such as dams. Their lifetime is long, and they are not easily removed. Even though the grey industry negatively impact the environment, by changing the nature of the water flow or challenging the survival of species, they have sometimes had such a big impact on the ecosystem that removing them would be more harmful than keeping them. In a way this provides us with a best of the worst scenario. While there is not so much else to do than keeping the grey industries, future installations of water infrastructure should be smarter and based in NBS. NBS can, in contrast to the grey industry, be manually adapted and can be more sensitive to changes in circumstances. Timboe stated that quantity, quality and community resilience can all be improved by NBS. NBS has also a lot of co-benefits. it helps other sectors and it can also enhance the work for peace.
The third panellist was Isabel Michal from UNHCR. Her main points concerned how displaced people can be protected in the context of climate change and disaster, conflict and violence. She stressed that displacement of people due to water stress is often internal. In other words, people are displaced within their own country. When this occurs, women and children are the most exposed as the event of water stress impact their everyday life more directly than it does for men. Household tasks are largely dependent on water and as most of world still practice traditional gender roles, women and children are the ones ultimately bearing the brunt. Michal also emphasized that the international conventions on refugees and migration have not been adapted to combined climate change reasons for fleeing. The international conventions are not updated and do therefore not recognize an intersection of climate change, water stress, conflict and violence as an eligible reason for protection. Generally, the law texts postulate it to be one reason for fleeing, but many climate refuges cannot provide one reason. That make them incompatible with the refugee system and make them lose their right for protection. Paragraphs providing protection for people fleeing for multiple causes is currently discussed and the panellist urge that these need to be settled.
The fourth panellist, Atle Solberg, was from the Platform on disaster displacement. In addition to what had already been said, he provided a few statistics. According to the World Bank report Groundswell – Preparing for Internal Climate Migration the world could have over 140 million internal refuges in year 2050 if keeping business as usual. Solberg also presented that there have been 69 submissions to UNFCCC on the link between human mobility and climate change effects on water since 2016. Here, Solberg encouraged people to make more submissions on the theme to visualise the problem and so give it more attention in the climate negotiations. Additionally, Solberg said that displacement is not a given consequence of climate change. Displacement can be prevented if we work against shrinking democratic space, advance inclusivity, etc at the same time as we find solutions to climate change impacts and reduce mitigation. Lastly, he highlighted that the right to water is a human right and that water quality is key to many other human needs, why it should not be controversial.