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Home Lands: Island and Archipelagic States’ Policymaking for Human Mobility in the Context of Climate Change

Home Lands: Island and Archipelagic States’ Policymaking for Human Mobility in the Context of Climate Change


Today, people living in island states experience the devastating effects of extreme tropical cyclones, rising sea levels, droughts, and ocean acidification. Due to such hazards, archipelagic and island countries, while economically and culturally different, face scarcity of arable lands, remoteness, and challenges to relief distribution. Some of their populations are vulnerable and have limited resources to adapt in situ to adversity. These compounding circumstances are push factors for migration and may become so strong that people feel they have no other option but to move out of harm’s way in order to have the chance of a decent future. Policymakers in archipelagic and island states are trying to understand potential future changes and their implications for their nations. This report provides an overview of where human mobility in the context of climate change (HMCCC) fits in the policy landscape of nine island and archipelagic countries: Anguilla, Antigua & Barbuda, Dominica, and St. Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean; Fiji, Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu in the South Pacific; and the Philippines in the Western Pacific. All of these nations are heavily affected by climate impacts like sea level rise, ocean acidification, tropical cyclones, and hydrological extremes. However, the policy landscape in these countries is heterogeneous. Some of the countries have specifically addressed HMCCC in guidelines, adaptation plans, or policies. Others have just recently recognised the topic as an emerging policy action field. This report demonstrates that HMCCC is a cross-cutting issue that can potentially be addressed by several ministries and governmental agencies.

This report shows the strength of regional approaches for improving migrants’ rights and for increasing climate resilience. The findings are relevant to other island nations that face similar challenges and need to build capacity for future climate-related mobility dynamics. Moreover, they highlight the necessity of building a coherent multilateral framework on HMCCC to accommodate and support people who may have to move in the future.

*Download the full report from the right hand column. The key messages from the report are provided below. See the full text for more detail.


In accordance with decisions taken at the Conference of Parties 16 in Cancun (COP16), this report distinguishes three different types of climate-related human mobility: migration, displacement, and planned relocation. “Human mobility” functions as an umbrella term to categorise movements of people.

The countries selected for this study were chosen due to their particular exposure to climate impacts and the different mobility patterns that have been observed in relation to climate change, as well as high interest by the governments in HMCCC. Together, the countries exhibit large differences in terms of the ability of national and regional institutions to address HMCCC. Therefore, this report also provides an entry points to develop more joint research and capacity building activities across the regions.

Literature review and analysis of primary data, utilising qualitative approaches, were employed to fulfil the objectives of the research. Thorough reviews were conducted for all three research areas of available scientific publications on climate change and migration as well as of relevant regional and national policy-documents related to these topics. Primary data was collected through a series of in-depth interviews with key stakeholders in each target country, as well as a limited number of focus group discussions, between January and June 2019. Interviews were held in person and in some cases via electronic media. Interviews comprised regional and national level actors, who may have been involved in the management of migration, displacement or planned relocation, or in the field of climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction.


The main limitations of this study are selection bias, the time and resources available, and limited comparability of diverse contexts. The selection of interviewees does not represent the views on HMCCC of the respective governments or the overall populations. However, as experts with knowledge relating either to climate change, disaster management, or migration were interviewed, the sensitivity to human mobility in a changing climate can be assumed to be much higher than in other national ministries, NGOs, or the general population.

While an exhaustive number of interview partners was not possible in the timeframe of this study, an appropriate balance of viewpoints and experiences was sought to cover numerous subjects. Bias may have been inadvertently introduced by the researchers through wording that can lead the participant and confirmation bias. Interview questions were purposefully kept as simple as possible and in a suitable order, with general questions preceding specific or potentially sensitive ones.

Key Insights

Eastern Caribbean

In the Eastern Caribbean, intra-island mobility is facilitated through the framework of the Organization of Eastern Caribbean States Commission (OECS), which grants its member states’ citizens freedom of movement and the Caribbean Community (CARICOM), which provides freedom of movement for certain types of skilled labour under the CARICOM Single Market and Economy (CSME). Dominica has developed a strategy to move people away from hazard-exposed areas. Besides this strategy, no explicit policies or guidelines exist that address HMCCC on a national or regional level.

The extreme cyclone season of 2017 led to unprecedented numbers of displacements in the region. In general, intraregional collaboration served to accommodate displaced populations and the solidarity between the countries was highlighted as positive by policymakers. However, interviews with regional and national level actors indicated that capacities of involved agencies were hard-pressed resulting frequently in insufficient care for displaced persons, high stress for agency employees, who themselves were sometimes affected, and missed opportunities for data collection. Displacements after disasters have led to negative psychological health effects and these are insufficiently addressed in response frameworks.

South Pacific

Although migration has been part of cultures in the Pacific for centuries, climate change may lead to the abrupt and involuntary displacement of communities that are deeply connected with their land. Climate change is, therefore, increasingly acknowledged as a driver of human mobility among policymakers in the South Pacific. This has prompted civil society movements, like the Pacific Climate Warriors, to demand more ambitious climate protection internationally, in order for communities to be able to remain in their homeland. At the same time, policymakers carry the responsibility to take precautionary action and help people move out of hazardous areas.

In 2018, Fiji launched Planned Relocation Guidelines, though the standard operating procedures are yet to be developed. In addition, Vanuatu launched its National Policy on Climate Change and Disaster-Induced Displacement in 2018. Despite this growing awareness, experts have indicated that HMCCC is not sufficiently addressed in policy documents across the region. Increased awareness among policymakers is a precondition for achieving this. Regional actors like the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP) or the Pacific Community (SPC) play an important role in giving a voice to Pacific island states in international policy negotiations on climate change. Regional actors like the Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) are also active in managing or responding to displacement and relocation in the region. The Pacific Island Forum Secretariat (PIFS), another important regional actor, has elevated results from the Technical Working Group on HMCCC to regional policy work in the Pacific. Several respondents referred to good cooperation practices, for instance after tropical cyclones. Referring to national levels, experts rather expressed doubt in capacities to address HMCCC. Several experts also mentioned the need to improve communication and/or coordination mechanisms between stakeholders in this cross-cutting topic.


Extreme weather and climate events affect the Philippines annually. Urban populations in poverty and/or informal housing are particularly at risk of further hazards, and rural populations are migrating to nearby urban areas, nearby farms, and agricultural areas, a trend particularly reported in the larger islands of the archipelago. Internal migration from resource stressed areas towards larger cities is most likely to involve working-age males with middle-to-high socioeconomic status.

While no legislation exists specifically referencing HMCCC, two national agencies were created to coordinate, centralise, and scale-up work on climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction, two issues typically addressed separately: the Climate Change Commission (CCC) and the National Disaster Risk Reduction and Management Council (NDRRMC). These bodies were created through Republican Act 9729 and Republican Act 10121, respectively. The currently fragmented approaches and multiplicity of actors can be improved by converging the strategies of the two agencies. A good step towards more effective integration of population movements in CCC and NDRRMC activities would be to integrate the Philippine Commission on Population (POPCOM), the central body mandated to manage population programmes including internal migration, in climate change and disaster risk reduction policies and plans.

Key Recommendations

Establishing effective policies to manage migration, planned relocation and displacement is essential to minimise potential challenges of human mobility and to maximise the positive potential of migration for development. To support effective policymaking, this report lists the following five steps which can be taken by national and regional actors:

  1. Set a Strategic Direction. Setting a clear, strategic, and objective-driven direction for policy development and implementation of climate migration policy is an important component to effective public policy and governance both on the regional and national levels. Forming a specific direction of action involves:

    1. ensuring sustained commitment at key levels of leadership;
    2. engaging in regional and/or international dialogues and thereby in cross-country coordination;
    3. establishing targeted legal and policy instruments;
    4. building institutional structures and capacities for effective implementation of policies and programmes;
    5. ensuring the full participation of affected communities, with particular attention to vulnerable or marginalized groups;
    6. and executing monitoring and evaluation mechanisms.
  2. Execute Abating Actions for Climate Risks. Policies and programmes to undercut the root causes of displacement, and distress migration, and specifically targeting people already affected by climate change impacts, are key. Policies and programmes could include:

    1. diversification of income to increase capability of addressing climate change;
    2. safety net mechanisms for losses and damage in the context of extreme weather, such as cash for work programmes and insurance schemes;
    3. and community consultation mechanisms necessary for the success of government activities such as relocating at-risks people.
  3. Improve Data and Strengthen Research. The collection of migration and displacement data is important for the implementation, follow-up, and review of any migration or displacement management policy, as well as for identifying and assisting groups with specific vulnerabilities.

  4. Foster Effective Policy Implementation and Decision Making. Policy implementation can be strengthened through participatory, community-based approaches as well as by paying special attention to groups with specific needs. Moreover, monitoring and evaluation mechanisms and increased institutional capacities can help to ensure sustainable implementation. In the case of regional coordination, the objective must be the integration of strategies, policies, and actions between ministries or departments, across different governance levels, and always integrating local communities, who will themselves be the source of solutions.

  5. Widen and Deepen the Stakeholder Network. There should be improved awareness of climate change and human mobility linkages – and scientific literacy of both issues – among policy actors and practitioners. To achieve this, governments should consider fostering partnerships with universities as independent knowledge brokers. Moreover, national governments could invite constituted bodies under the UNFCCC regime to develop guidance related to risk retention and related capacity building and technology needs.

Suggested Citation

Vinke, Kira andBlocher, Julia andBecker, Mechthild andEbay, Jorge S. andFong, Teddy andKambon, Asha (2020)Home lands: island and archipelagic states’ policymaking for human mobility in the context of climate change. [Professional and Technical Reports]

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