Earlier this month, the United States reached an agreement with its southern neighbors to step up security after an increase in the number of Central Americans trying to emigrate to the U.S. People are fleeing multiple and often interrelated crises in their home countries, but an important factor is the impact of climate rupture; in addition to the devastation caused by last season’s record-breaking hurricane season, slower-onset climate challenges such as drought have contributed to rising food insecurity.
The climate crisis is fast becoming a key driver of migration; in 2019, 72 percent of new trips were climate-related. Many of these trips lead to cities. In both the front lines of migration and the climate crisis, city mayors lead the way in the response, often moving faster than national governments to reduce emissions, while providing humanitarian support to migrants, even when they have no formal responsibilities or budgets. But so far nations have focused primarily on climate migration as a security challenge and have excluded mayors from planning and decision-making. Now, it is crucial that city leaders have a seat at the table where policy and investment decisions are made around climate migration.
Without urgent action on the climate, many parts of the world will soon become uninhabitable. Rising sea levels, crop failures and record temperatures will lead to an unprecedented movement of people. According to a World Bank report, by 2050, climate impacts could force more than 140 million people to move to their countries in only three regions: sub-Saharan Africa, southern Asia and Latin America. Globally, it is estimated that up to a billion people could be evicted from their homes over the next 30 years, less than half their lives. If so, human civilization will not have experienced migrations on such a scale in its history.
Those who leave home are likely to settle in cities, which offer the most diverse opportunities for employment and access to services. This is especially true for the forcibly displaced, as more than 60% of refugees and at least 80% of internally displaced persons (IDPs) live in urban areas.
Moving to the cities does not involve any risk. Here, migrants and displaced people can settle in already marginalized neighborhoods and be vulnerable to labor exploitation, dangerous working and living conditions or trafficking. Cities themselves are often very vulnerable to climate risks, which means that newcomers may end up changing one set of climate risks for another.
This puts cities under multiple pressures, as migration increases the pressure on services and infrastructure, while climate impacts (from heat and extreme fires to floods and landslides) can displace people. within the city limits. Still, mayors take steps to protect their new and existing residents as they prepare for an inclusive, green path that recognizes the vital contributions newcomers make and the assets they bring.
In Freetown, where the population is expected to double over the next ten years due in large part to climate migration across Sierra Leone, Mayor Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr’s administration has been working with young migrants to improve waste services in informal settlements. In the United States, Houston hosted hundreds of thousands of people displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005 only to face its own devastation when Hurricane Harvey struck in 2017. In response, the city, under the leadership of Mayor Sylvester Turner, launched the Houston Resilient Strategy, which works to protect people in at-risk neighborhoods and offer options to residents living in floods. In Bangladesh, an estimated 2,000 people arrive in Dhaka daily, having migrated from other cities along a coastline that is increasingly affected by storms and rising sea levels. The Dhaka South City Corporation has developed a city-funded shelter for migrants designed to facilitate their transition to urban life.
Recent months have seen greater global recognition of the issue of climate migration. In February, U.S. President Joe Biden issued an executive order directing officials to conduct a study of the impact of climate rupture on migration, including “protection and resettlement options” and job opportunities. with “localities to respond to migration resulting directly or indirectly from climate change.” In response, Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti and more than a dozen U.S. mayors issued a joint letter calling for to the administration to include them in the development of this agenda.
In January, a French court ruled that a Bangladeshi man with asthma could not be deported due to high levels of air pollution in his home country, while the same month a year earlier, the Human Rights Committee of the UN determined that countries could not deport people who sought asylum because of climate-related threats. At the recent UN Security Council meeting to discuss the climate crisis, UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for in-depth collaborations to address its impact on migration patterns, food insecurity and increasing tensions.
However, while all are positive steps, policy frameworks that recognize climate and migration contain few accountability mechanisms. This means that those responding in the front line (mayors) are left without the legal, financial or political support needed to prepare, reduce risks, adapt and take care of their communities.
For many cities, the lack of access to funding and resources has been exacerbated by the pandemic. It is predicted that local governments could lose 15-25% of their revenue this year alone. Local governments do much more with less and need greater powers to increase their own revenues and greater support from national governments and the international community. Cities also need more access to data locally to report on their planning and response efforts.
In a recent document “Cities, Climate and Migration” C40 Cities and the Mayors Migration Council (MMC) have demonstrated the ability of mayors to act on both climate and migration at the local level, describing what cities need from national actors and international to do more of this work. effectively.
Cities are prepared to meet the challenges and take advantage of the opportunities of the climate and migration nexus. However, mayors cannot change business as usual. We urge national governments and international agencies to join us in recognizing the role of mayors in this space, giving them a place at the decision-making table, and unblocking the financial support they need to carry out smart practices. and inclusive services that improve the quality of life of migrants and displaced people, as well as the communities that receive them.
The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.