Reflections on the 'Climate Mobility and Children' symposium

A conversation with climate and migration experts

Cristina Colón
14 December 2020
Expert perspective  |  4 minute read
Photo of Kanta Kumari Rigaud

Dr. Kanta Kumari Rigaud
Lead Environmental Specialist, World Bank

What is your key take-away from the symposium?

Rigaud: Climate change is emerging as a potent driver of migration within countries — and there is a narrowing window of opportunity for climate action if we are to avert the crises of migration.

Nowhere is this urgency more profound than for children: climate impacts increase the proportion of undernourished children suffering from moderate to severe stunting. Meanwhile, girls born during extreme drought can grow up mentally and physically stunted — with intergenerational consequences for their offspring.

Distress-driven mobility amplifies these aspects and can quickly rob children of their full human capital potential and cause irreversible consequences. With children, the provision of nutrition, education and protection cannot be compromised or delayed — time is of the essence.

The symposium emphasized this “urgency within an urgency” and underscored why acting on climate mobility in the context of children is so important.

Photo of Susan Martin

Susan Martin
Donald G. Herzberg Professor Emerita in International Migration, Institute for the Study of International Migration, Georgetown University

What is missing in the conversation around climate mobility and children?

Martin: Robust age and sex disaggregated data are missing from the discussion of the impacts of climate change on mobility patterns.

Most projections of climate migration and displacement provide aggregate numbers of at-risk persons. Many of the surveys look at the household as a whole, not its component parts. Children growing up without families are usually excluded altogether from data collection.

As a result, we know too little about the ways in which climate and other environmental factors affect children or the role that different forms of mobility — for example, migration, displacement or planned relocation — will play in their future lives.

Filling this gap in data is a prerequisite for more effective child-centric and child-responsive policies and programs.   

Refugee child sleeping at the Um Raquba camp in Sudan
Photo of Sanjula Weerasinghe

Sanjula Weerasinghe
Non-resident Fellow, Institute for the Study of International Migration, Georgetown University

What is the one thing you’ve learned from the symposium?

Weerasinghe: Perhaps we need to learn more about intergenerational differences relating to mobility.

For instance, do the wishes and aspirations of children and youth affected by climate change diverge from their parents and families? In some planned relocation cases, youth have expressed greater willingness to relocate and rebuild compared to older generations.

Do similar differences arise for internal and cross-border migration? If so, what are the implications for intergenerational equity? How might disparate preferences and equity considerations implicate and inform planned relocation processes and the development of pathways for adaptive migration?

Beyond the evident need for data and knowledge, we also need to better understand their mobility preferences to promote attuned policy action on displacement, migration and planned relocation.

Photo of Kayly Ober

Kayly Ober
Senior Advocate and Programme Manager, Refugees International

What is missing in the discussion around climate mobility and children?

Ober: Research must view human mobility as part of a “translocal” process connecting people and places and creating new sets of relationships and flows of resources. This is important, as children may be put under additional or novel types of stress based on how their household engages in the migration process.

For instance, the mother or father may migrate and leave children behind in the care of grandparents. This may result in educational opportunities and better food and nutrition. However, it may also mean a strained relationship with parents and feelings of abandonment and loneliness.

Assessing the situation in this way, we can begin to process the breadth and scope of policy interventions for children. It requires addressing vulnerabilities from the vantage of origin and destination. It also means centering issues of family separation, mental health, labor rights, social safety nets, and social protection.

Beyond the evident need for data and knowledge, we also need to better understand their (children and youth’s) mobility preferences to promote attuned policy action on displacement, migration and planned relocation.

Sanjula Weerasinghe
Photo of Sophia Kianni

Sophia Kianni
UN Secretary General’s Youth Advisor on Climate Change; Founder and Executive Director of Climate Cardinals 

What is the key take-away you’ve learned from the symposium, reflecting on your own practice area?

Kianni: It is critical to have young people directly involved in the fight against climate change because our generation will be disproportionately affected if action is not taken.

Steps the UN has taken to establish the Secretary-General’s Youth Advisory Group on Climate Change are a great acknowledgement of how important it is to have young people at decision-making tables, and I would like to see other governments and international bodies establishing similar pathways for youth.

We must also seek diverse opinions when it comes to climate change, including youth activists chosen to participate in different discussions. 

Privileged youth activists, most often from the global north, have often been unduly prioritized by the media, thus neglecting the voices of people of color.

I urge other decision-makers to make sure when discussing children and climate mobility, they bring together young people from all over the world.

Photo of Juan Carlos Méndez Barquero

Juan Carlos Méndez Barquero
Regional Adviser in Costa Rica, Platform for Disaster Displacement

What is missing from the conversations around children and climate mobility? 

Méndez Barquero: As the international community advances to better understand and protect the needs of people displaced by disasters and climate change, there is still a need to promote policy coherence and multisectoral dialogue.

The needs, voices, concerns and expectations of children and youth should be taken into consideration, as they are the ones who will suffer the most in the near future.

More data is needed on this topic, and even more data is needed to make visible the faces of the people directly affected by climate change: how are they perceiving and suffering the socio-economic and social impacts of a changing climate on a daily basis and how well prepared are they for an uncertain future?