Linking human mobility to climate change

- Text and photos by Danica Marie Supnet, Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (source:

Last June, I was fortunate to be part of the Philippine delegation of the global programme on Human Mobility in the Context of Climate Change (HMCCC) to Germany, where we joined a three-day working group discussion and an international conference.

GIZ, together with Adelphi, brought in stakeholders from three pilot areas – the Philippines, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands – to discuss challenges and opportunities related to human mobility, including planned relocation, human security, migration policies, disaster risk management, and climate change.

The Philippine team was led by the Commission on Population (POPCOM) and included representatives from other government agencies, the academe, and civil society organizations such as the Institute for Climate and Sustainable Cities (ICSC).

As the representative of ICSC, I came in armed with our research agenda on integrating climate change in long-term development planning. Our research on slow onset events and work on local climate policy development have been identified as significant entry points for the global programme, and hopefully for the Philippines when we start the implementation.

Human mobility in the Philippines, specifically in-migration, is often reported based on the number of households or individuals moving out for career opportunities and access to services. Experts on population studies have cited several development indicators significant in long-term planning, especially at the local level – health, education, economy, security, access to services, and the labor market.

When we begin to see human mobility using the lens of climate change, it becomes clear how both issues have usually been addressed in silos. Slow onset events such as sea-level rise and increasing temperature, for instance, are common in all pilot areas. Small Pacific islands identified sea-level rise as a big risk, yet there have been no interventions made which focused on human mobility.

This idea surfaced when our team identified current policies and programs in the Philippines which were related to human mobility and climate change. As access to social services is one of the triggers of migration, cities and other destination areas should be able to plan for both migrants and residents to better access these services.

There is a big need for thorough research on human mobility and climate change, particularly on measuring and verifying climate-induced migration patterns. I had the chance to sit in a working group on collaborative research led by Dr. Nimfa Ogena from the University of the Philippines’ Population Institute. We realized that the three pilot areas face a similar challenge: collated and analyzed data linking human mobility to climate change is limited, and to some extent unavailable, as were data collection mechanisms.

Moreover, existing data could not be directly attributed to climate change. Case in point: Pacific and Caribbean countries have national policies on disaster-related mobility and displacement. Yet despite the magnitude and severity of climate impacts, they still have limited means to measure the impacts of both slow- and rapid onset events.

My colleagues and I shared our efforts to document anecdotes on climate-induced human mobility in the Philippines, but we still need qualitative data to support these claims. We already have relevant frameworks in place in the country, such as the census, National Migration Survey, and the National Framework Strategy on Climate Change. However, we still have a fragmented approach to human mobility and climate change.

This is why I told my fellow participants that, based on our experience in ICSC, SOE research should be contextual and integrated into local development planning. Human mobility in the context of climate change must be incorporated in their adaptation or risk reduction policies and not merely be “mentioned” in different provisions.

Two other major gaps in the agenda were harmonizing national and local policies on migration, as well as recognizing the role climate finance plays in the entire equation. While I was able to raise the importance of climate finance accountability, there were few points raised that were related to accessing finance dedicated to mobility and climate initiatives.

While I think that the human mobility and climate change agenda has yet to fully take off, we participants from the Philippines, the Caribbean, and the Pacific agreed that we had more than enough important action agendas to bring home and work on in collaboration with other stakeholders.

The Philippine team agreed to form a technical working group with POPCOM as lead to identify and address policy, research, and capacity building needs. And we will make sure we take the first step.