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

Island and coastal regions belong to the most climate change-exposed habitats. Today, people living in island states experience the devastating effects of extreme tropical cyclones, rising sea levels, droughts and ocean acidification. In some cases, entire cultures are at risk of extinction because traditional livelihoods can no longer provide sufficient resources for survival while landmasses are submerged and salinized by high tides.

The report “Home Lands: Island and Archipelagic States’ Policymaking for Human Mobility in the Context of Climate Change” analyses strengths and weaknesses of existing national and regional policy frameworks on human mobility in a warming world. In particular, the report considers the extent to which this topic is addressed in the policy landscape of nine island and archipelagic countries: Anguilla, Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, and Saint Lucia in the Eastern Caribbean; Fiji, Kiribati, Tuvalu, and Vanuatu in the Pacific; and the Philippines in the Western Pacific. First-hand interviews with experts from across the regions underline ways in which governments, together with regional and international partners, employ different strategies to either enable people to stay or ensure they are able to migrate in good conditions. Stories from focus group discussions complete the picture. Based on these insights as well as policy analyses, the report provides overarching key recommendations as well as regional and country-specific recommendations. 

Archipelagic and island countries are economically and culturally diverse, and their populations have different vulnerabilities and capacities to adapt in situ to adversity. It is understood from other contexts that migration decisions may diverge in response to environmental stressors depending on a number of factors at multiple levels, including local agricultural conditions, adaptation options, possibilities for income diversification, and the presence of safe pathways for migration. As an example of the latter, inter-island mobility is facilitated through the framework of the Organisation 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). This framework provides clear access to a migration pathway for some families affected by climate change impacts to diversify income sources. While many Pacific countries have recognized the importance of international migration to promote socio-economic development and to respond to climate change, for example, in Kiribati’s 2015 National Labour Migration Policy, pathways to labour migration are generally limited to bilateral agreements with partners in the region.