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World leaders must prepare for the climate migration challenge

As mayors we are taking urgent action to address the issue, but we cannot do it alone.

By Sadiq Khan and Mohammad Atiqul Islam

London and Dhaka may be separated by thousands of miles and multiple time zones, but we are united by strong and historic bonds that transcend geography and bring us closer together in today’s globalised world.

London, for example, is home to a Bangladeshi-origin community of more than 200,000, based mainly in the East End and around the cultural hub of Brick Lane, which makes a significant and positive contribution to the city’s economy. London and Dhaka’s relationship is not only based on business; it is also rooted in human connections between family and friends in the diaspora. This means we share a much deeper affinity, not to mention a mutual love of spicy food and cricket.

As cities we share a firm and focused resolve to tackle climate breakdown – a challenge that will define not just London and Dhaka’s prospects in the 21st century, but all of our futures. As chair and vice chair of C40 Cities, a global network of mayors of nearly 100 world-leading cities dedicated to combating the climate crisis, we are taking urgent action to address the causes and devastating human cost of forced and unmanaged migration created by the climate emergency. In London this includes introducing and expanding our world-leading Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ), which is helping to bring down emissions and clean up our air, delivering local and global benefits. 

Whether they are the origin, transit point or final destination for those displaced by climate breakdown, cities are often on the frontline of extreme weather events and migration. This Saturday (18 December) is International Migrants Day, but it will be like any other day in Dhaka, where an estimated 2,000 people will arrive, having been displaced by rising sea levels and tropical storms elsewhere in the country. But the Bangladeshi capital itself is also increasingly vulnerable to river flooding that threatens low-lying informal settlements, where 40 per cent of the capital’s 18 million-strong population live, many of whom are rural internal migrants. It’s no wonder that many thousands migrate overseas every year, some making perilous journeys across Asia and Europe, with hopes of making it to cities like London.

All over the world, people are already being forced to move due to the climate crisis, from small island states in the Pacific to Latin America, South-East Asia, Africa and North America. The World Bank estimates that 216 million people across six world regions could be displaced within their countries by 2050 due to climate breakdown.

Mayors are taking urgent action to address these issues, but we cannot do it alone. We need the climate migration challenge to be recognised in national development plans and strategies, to increase consultation with mayors, devolve competencies to city level and local authorities, and allocate funds to support local climate action. Mayors are leading the way by putting vulnerable communities and migrants at the centre of climate action, demonstrating that just and effective solutions exist, but they cannot be implemented on the required scale without bolder national and international commitments.

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Tackling this global issue requires collaboration and concerted action. That’s why C40 Cities and the Mayors Migration Council (MMC) launched the C40-MMC Global Mayors Task Force on Climate and Migration in 2021. The task force is led by the mayors of a diverse group of global cities – including developed, developing, coastal, inland, large and mega-sized cities – which are dedicated to accelerating local, national and international responses to the challenges of climate and migration.

The C40-MMC Task Force released an Action Agenda at Cop26 and will champion this agenda over the next year ahead of Cop27, when progress is needed to secure global net-zero carbon emissions by 2050 and mobilise sufficient levels of climate finance, particularly for adaptation in the Global South, to reach the already delayed public commitment of raising $100bn per year.

The task force’s agenda urges national governments and international agencies to support cities by investing more in urban resilience to climate hazards, especially in climate-vulnerable countries and communities. They must ensure the protection and inclusion of those displaced by the climate crisis and guarantee equitable access to essential services such as Covid-19 vaccinations. Newcomers must be welcomed as positive agents of change in the transition to a green and inclusive economy and not treated simply as a problem to be managed. This vision is supported by global business leaders who have committed to invest in a new chapter of the MMC’s Global Cities Fund for inclusive climate action.

Without significant intervention to halt rising temperatures, climate-driven migration will inflict a heavy toll on humanity. The rights and well-being of those forced to move may be violated and their lives endangered. At the same time, unmanaged migration into cities could place intense pressure on resources, heightening the risk of backlash and social unrest.

Every country, city and individual will be affected by the climate crisis – and so we all have a shared interest in rising to meet this challenge. Wherever we are in the world, we all benefit from stronger and fairer economies, healthier communities, more equal societies and cleaner air. We have so much to gain by working together, and so much to lose by not doing so.

Sadiq Khan is the Mayor of London and chair of C40 Cities. Mohammad Atiqul Islam is Mayor of Dhaka North and vice chair of C40 Cities and co-chair of the C40-MMC Global Mayors Task Force on Climate and Migration.

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