Interview with Vera Scholz, GIZ

Climate change and migration: reducing risk and supporting new starts

Vera Scholz

Climate change is threatening the livelihoods of large numbers of people around the world. The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is supporting them in tackling the impact of climate change – or in building a future elsewhere. Vera Scholz explains the specific nature of climate-induced migration and describes the challenges.

Many of those who leave their homeland because of climate change live in a grey area as far as their legal status is concerned…

That’s right. They are not formally recognised as refugees, and the most severely affected countries, including Tuvalu and Fiji, are critical of that. So, when we talk about climate change, we talk not about flight but about migration or displacement. There is a clear link between climate change and migration. People are leaving their homeland because extreme weather events, such as floods, hurricanes or drought, are becoming more frequent and they can no longer earn a living. However, climate change is usually just one of a series of reasons for migration and is rarely the decisive factor. People often face a combination of factors, including poverty, poor infrastructure and, of course, violent conflict…

…so I assume that also makes it difficult to put a figure on the phenomenon.

As far as climate-induced migration is concerned, yes. However, we can estimate the number of people displaced within their own country as a result of extreme weather events. In 2016, the figure was around 23.5 million people around the world. Climate-induced migration usually occurs inside a country’s borders, so that is a very significant statistic.

So how can we support the people affected?

We can help to reduce climate risks – the negative impact of climate change. For example, we are supporting farmers in Ethiopia in restoring their pasture after periods of drought by constructing new dams to prevent run-off of scarce rain water from fields and river beds. In Viet Nam, meanwhile, cleared mangrove forests are being reforested to improve protection of rice fields in the Mekong Delta against flooding and storms. The measures help people to adapt to local conditions and give them prospects within their own homeland.

But there is a limit to how far local communities and regions can adapt – that is evident from the small island states. So what happens when people are forced to leave their homeland?

In Fiji, we are working on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and the European Union to support the resettlement of vulnerable communities. We have worked with our partners there to formulate resettlement guidelines and set up an interministerial working group – that’s something quite new. This means that we can carry out the necessary processes effectively and use them as the basis for future climate-induced resettlement. Those affected – women, men and young people – are closely involved in the individual steps we take. For example, we focus on water supply, agricultural land and, of course, particularly on where they choose to resettle. But migration is about far more than just finding a new home.

So what challenges do people face after migration?

In Bangladesh, we support people in finding a foothold in their new homeland. Many have moved from rural areas to towns and cities, where they lead precarious lives in informal settlements and cannot find work. Training and skills development open up prospects for them. For example, we’ve trained almost 1,500 people to repair mobile phones and motorcycles. We also support the development of infrastructure, for instance providing access to clean water. It’s really all about improving the conditions under which people live, and to that extent, we need to see migration as a vital adaptation strategy and an opportunity for development. That’s why GIZ will be stepping up its work in the area of climate change and human mobility in future.

Vera Scholz works for the Sector and Global Programmes Department within GIZ, where she heads the Climate Change, Environment and Infrastructure Division.

November 2017