Reuters
On a video link, U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris speaks to Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei about solutions to a migrant crisis at the U.S. border, April 26.

Biden’s focus on climate migration

With far more people displaced worldwide by weather than by conflict, the U.S. focus on helping Central America adapt to climate change is a foretaste of what must be done. 

In early June, Vice President Kamala Harris will travel to Guatemala on a new assignment to help Central America reduce the flow of migrants to the United States. A prime focus of the visit will be helping the region adapt to what she calls “extreme climate incidents,” such as back-to-back hurricanes last year that affected nearly 9 million people. On that score, her work is part of a global trend.

A new report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) finds the world has seen “significant advances” in countries taking steps to reduce the risk of displacement from weather-related hazards, such as floods, storms, and wildfires. Much of the progress has occurred since 2010 when a U.N. Climate Change Conference formally recognized a link between climate change and migration for the first time.

The report calls on nations to provide better data whenever weather events drive people to move. The reason is to stir solutions. “Rather than buy into sensational headlines about ‘mass climate migration,’ we must provide robust information on the scale, patterns and impacts of the human mobility involved,” it stated.

From the data compiled by IDMC, storms and floods last year caused three times the displacement than did violent conflicts. Of the more than 40 million people newly displaced within their countries by either conflicts or weather, 30 million were a result of weather and other disasters – the highest number on record.

The Harris trip to Guatemala is a foretaste of what the world may be doing more often. In April, the Biden White House requested $861 million from Congress for the three countries – Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador – that are a major source of cross-border migration into the U.S. Current aid to the region, says Peter Natiello of the U.S. Agency for International Development, has already begun to strengthen economic opportunities, security, and governance, and to build “resilience to climate change.”

In areas hit hardest by weather extremes, such aid has provided drip irrigation, introduced agroforestry, and helped farmers diversify their crops. “Those are increasing incomes, and those people say that they are less inclined to migrate than the national average,” said Mr. Natiello. President Biden’s plans for the region includ​e​ making a transition to clean energy, such as solar microgrids for rural areas.

Reducing the risk of climate change, the IDMC report says, will counter the notion that such disasters are “natural.” If successful, the Harris mission in Central America could mark a shift in global thinking on climate change.

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