Guest commentary by Robert Primmer, Land Tenure and Climate Change Specialist, Evaluation, Research, and Communication (ERC) Project.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s (IPCC) recently released report draws on research from academics across the globe and concludes that the impacts of climate change are no longer a future possibility, especially for the world’s poorest communities. Climate change is already causing real-time effects including sea ice melt, Arctic permafrost thaw, coral reef death, heat waves, heavy rainfall patterns and mega-disasters. All prediction models in the report indicate dramatic, negative changes across the globe even in best case scenarios, such as an 80% reduction in man-made emissions. The potential humanitarian crises flowing from these changes will have a disproportionate impact on the poorest communities, who have much higher levels of vulnerability to environmental impacts on health, wealth and other factors, and much lower levels of capacity for coping with environmental change.
The report draws a clear line connecting climate change to food scarcity, conflict and displacement. It provides examples of recent and predicted climatic impacts on economic sectors, natural resources, ecosystems, livelihoods and human health across the globe and the resulting displacement of people. In particular, the report refers to the 2008 displacement of 90,000 people in Mozambique and the approximately 1 million people living in the Zambezi floodplain where “temporary displacement is taking on permanent characteristics”(IPCC WGII AR5 Technical Summary, 2014). In a similar vein, in 2009 the Global Humanitarian Forum issued a report on the global human impact of climate change, estimating more than 300,000 deaths and about $125 billion in economic losses each year. The report indicated that most climate change-induced mortality is due to worsening floods and droughts in developing countries. This also raises questions of climate justice, since the 50 least developed countries of the world account for no more than 1% of worldwide emissions of greenhouse gases, which is less than the CO2 emissions created by just the population of the state of New York.
We as land tenure and property rights practitioners must consider the links between conflict over resources (including land and water) and the mass migrations expected to be caused by sea rise, flooding and drought. We need to foresee and examine the land tenure impacts of climate induced migration. Opportunities for this discussion exist, such as the recent World Bank Conference on Land and Poverty, which brought together 1080 participants to discuss land as it relates to the spectrum of development scenarios. Conspicuously absent, however, was any meaningful discussion of predicted scenarios related to a changing climate and its effects on secure land tenure and property rights, food security, poverty and conflict. Mitigation and resilience were discussed, but what happens when resilience is not developed or mitigation is not an option?
Given the dire consequences of the IPCC’s predictions, we need to consider how we can help communities become resilient when the ocean is rising and portions of the earth are drying. We need to assess the options for preventing conflict and creating housing when millions of people lose their homes and move to lands that are already claimed. Land tenure and property rights programming solutions must be based on climate modelling predictions. Given the profound impact that a changing climate will have on land use and land tenure systems, we must consider the full scale of the problem and imagine what land governance, conflict remediation, housing and service provision institutions and solutions are needed.