Human Rights, Climate Change and Migration in the Sahel

The impacts of climate change, including rising sea levels, floods, droughts, and forest fires, are already having a devastating toll on human lives. In some areas they are rendering lands uninhabitable or unable to support the livelihoods that communities have relied upon for generations. The Sahel region of Africa has been identified by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change as a climate hot spot, and is already experiencing many of these adverse effects of climate change. Such adverse effects impair the enjoyment of human rights, including the rights to health, water and sanitation, food, adequate housing, and the right to life. They also interact with a number of other factors to prompt people to migrate or modify traditional patterns of migration.

Addressing the nexus of climate change, migration and human rights, the preamble of the Paris Climate Agreement adopted in 2015 under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), calls on Parties to, “respect, promote and consider their respective obligations on human rights, the right to health, the rights of indigenous peoples, local communities, migrants, children, persons with disabilities and people in vulnerable situations and the right to development, as well as gender equality, empowerment of women and intergenerational equity.”

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has consistently highlighted the obligations and responsibilities of States and other duty-bearers to respect, protect and fulfil human rights put at risk by climate change. This includes taking specific action to address the human rights challenges faced by people migrating in circumstances linked to the adverse impacts of climate change. OHCHR is working at a global level and in various countries to contribute to a deeper understanding of the relationship between human rights, climate change, and migration. It is also working, with the support of the Government of Denmark, to elaborate and promote a human-rights based, including gender-responsive, approach to these issues in the Sahel.

This report provides an overview of climate change-related migration through a human rights lens.
Building on a case study included in OHCHR’s 2018 analytical study in partnership with the Platform on Disaster Displacement on the slow-onset effects of climate change and human rights protection of cross-border migrants, it focuses on the Sahel as one of the regions of the world that is already seeing significant and complex linkages between migration and the adverse effects of climate change.
These include migration linked to declining rural agricultural and coastal fishery productivity, shifting patterns of nomadic pastoralism, and migration induced by floods, landslides, and other disasters.

The report does not provide a comprehensive analysis of all of the human rights challenges related to climate change and migration in the Sahel. However, it identifies some of the key challenges and impacts that are already being seen in the region.

After providing a brief overview of the context in the Sahel, the report describes human rights impacts in the context of climate change-related migration. It highlights in particular that the adverse effects of climate change on human rights can act as a driver of migration. It also examines some key human rights challenges faced during transit and at destination locations of those migrating for reasons related to climate change. It then articulates some of the key elements of a human rights-based approach to climate change action and migration governance in the Sahel.

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