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According to the UN, 1 billion people will be displaced by 2050 because of climate change.

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In an op-ed published on the World Economic Forum website, Kumi Naidoo, Secretary General of Amnesty International and former Executive Director of Greenpeace International warns of the lack of a global treaty on the management of populations displaced by climate change. Yet according to UN figures, there will be one billion climate refugees by 2050. Isn't it time to prepare ourselves for what is sure to turn the world upside down?
 
Anternational fora have engaged in a series of discussions that could fundamentally change the management of migration movements across borders. The dialogue focuses primarily on refugee protection; the other strand is on migration.
 
These discussions, conducted under the aegis of the United Nations, will not lead to legally binding agreements. But the discussions themselves provide a rare opportunity to build consensus on contemporary migration issues. More importantly, the international community will have an opportunity to plan for the impact of climate change, which is set to become the main cause of the uprooting and migration of the world's people.
 
The recent account lists nearly 258 million migrants worldwideincluding 22.5 million refugees registered by the United Nations Refugee Agency. These figures are nothing if the most modest climate predictions come true. According to the International Organization for Migration, climate change could displace nearly a billion people by 2050.... Yet there is no international treaty covering climate-induced migration - a gap that needs to be filled now.
 
International refugee protection standards have not received more attention since 1951. That year, faced with the displacement of 80 million people after World War II, UN member countries ratified a comprehensive framework to standardize how refugees are treated. The Global Compact on Refugees The framework currently under discussion builds on this framework to develop strategies that provide tools for refugees and assist refugee-hosting States. Most importantly, the document would commit signatories to the protection of "those who have been forced to migrate due to natural disasters and climate change".
 
The second agreement is even more significant for the management of populations displaced by climatic events. There has never been a global treaty in force on migration; and previous bilateral initiatives have focused almost exclusively on violence and conflict as the main causes of exoduses. The Global Compact proposal on migration also considers other factors and believes that climate change is among the "structural adverse factors that force people to leave their homelands".
 
This type of regulatory vocabulary confirms what at-risk populations around the world already know: droughts, natural disasters, desertification, crop failures and many other environmental upheavals destroy the livelihoods of entire communities and render entire regions uninhabitable. In my country, South Africa, a record drought is forcing major cities to consider water rationing. If water shortages persist, migration will not be long in coming.

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Resource scarcity is particularly worrying in politically unstable states where climate change is already linked to violent conflict and social upheaval. Conflicts over the control of fertile land and drinking water supplies have fuelled the war in Darfur and even the current crisis in Syria - one of the largest sources of migrants today - which arose after successive droughts drove rural Syrians to the cities. It is not unrealistic to think that even more blood will be shed in the coming years because of climate change.

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The two United Nations frameworks could serve as a basis for planning the management of future migration resulting from climate change. Decision-making guided by scientific models enables States to develop resettlement strategies that are orderly, dignified and equitable. This is certainly a smarter approach than the hitherto unannounced interventions.
 
But history teaches us that states are rather hostile to collective solutions to manage forced migration. The extent of the damage is now clearly visible in the disturbing and unacceptable plight of refugees from all parts of the world.
 
As we approach the last month of the Pact discussions, what can we expect from those negotiating the unprecedented global plan to manage the unprecedented migration of people? The causes and consequences of climate change require closer attention. The uprooted must be able to rebuild their lives with dignity. World leaders will be judged on whether this goal is achieved through global compacts for refugees and migrants.
 
Kumi NaidooSecretary General of Amnesty International and former Executive Director of Greenpeace International.
 
This forum was originally published by World Economic Forum
 

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