Millions of refugees and displaced people to gain protection, resilience, and long-term climate solutions thanks to new CGIAR-UNHCR partnership

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In 2023, CGIAR forged a new partnership with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refugee Agency. CGIAR researchers provide evidence, data, and insights to support UNHCR to mitigate the vulnerability of 110 million displaced people and their hosts, and to potentially influence policies in 135 countries, strengthening protection and climate resilience for and with those who need it the most.

The global climate crisis is a human crisis. Floods, droughts, extreme heat, failed harvests, and other climate change impacts are increasingly eroding human security and driving displacement. What’s more, climate shocks are making life harder for the millions of already displaced people who now reside in some of the most climate-vulnerable areas of the world. 

Some 70 percent of people internally displaced by conflict, 60 percent of stateless people, and 30 percent of refugees live in fragile or conflict-affected countries that are among the most vulnerable to and least ready to adapt to climate change. This exposure to both climate and conflict risks means that refugees, along with their host communities, urgently need adequate protection, access to services, resources, and solutions that can support their long-term livelihoods and climate resilience. 

It is in this context that CGIAR, through its Fragility, Conflict, and Migration (FCM) Initiative, has forged a new partnership with UNHCR. 

 “Our partnership with CGIAR, and the data and analysis it generates, is an essential element for ensuring better protection of displaced people. We know that displaced communities and their hosts are only going to be made more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Rather than waiting for a disaster to strike, we are better positioned than ever to enable anticipatory approaches, climate-smart programming, enhancing preparedness, and ensuring the efficient allocation of resources,” said Andrew Harper, Special Advisor to the High Commissioner for Refugees on Climate Action.

Identifying risks, informing UNHCR strategies on climate action

In 2023, CGIAR helped inform UNHCR’s new Strategic Plan for Climate Action 2024-2030 to guide the agency’s efforts to enhance protection, resilience, and long-term climate solutions to displaced communities and their hosts.

“We are working with UNHCR to really understand and maximize the impacts of devising more climate action within their protocols. We are able to draw on our experience with climate research—including food, land, and water solutions—but also to tailor it to UNHCR’s needs, focusing on these most marginalized groups,” explained Alessandro Craparo, CGIAR climate scientist and key contributor to the FCM Initiative.

Notably, CGIAR has developed maps showing where forcibly displaced and stateless persons are exposed to climate risks now and in the future. They reveal that a majority of displaced persons are residing in the most climate-vulnerable countries in the world, including in Africa, Asia, and South America. CGIAR’s projections toward 2030 indicate that conditions will significantly deteriorate, and climate hazards increase, highlighting the critical need for effective governance. 

What’s more, challenges vary widely between regions, and compound events—where several climate change impacts co-occur with instability or fragility—add complexity. UNHCR’s Regional Climate Action Plan for the East and Horn of Africa and Great Lakes (EHAGL), one of the of seven regional plans that CGIAR has helped develop, identifies the region as one of the most vulnerable to climate change globally. It also commits UNHCR to “do more” to boost the protection, climate resilience, and adaptive capacities of displaced people and host communities.

Providing data and evidence to drive a climate action agenda

In addition to informing UNHCR’s strategic priorities, CGIAR is supporting the agency to advance its climate action agenda at several other levels—not least by providing data and evidence that can inform ongoing humanitarian assistance.

‘’I can only foresee this partnership to expand further, for the benefit of both organizations. The ultimate proof of success is mitigating the impacts of climate change where it is most urgently needed, including for those displaced and their hosts,’’ added Harper.

In Mozambique, for example, UNHCR is providing climate-resilient shelters to thousands of refugees and internally displaced people whose temporary housing tends to be destroyed by frequent cyclones and floods. CGIAR researchers are evaluating whether and how this initiative could better contribute to the long-term resilience, livelihoods, and security of the residents. 

Likewise, CGIAR researchers are working to enable improved support to refugees and hosting communities in Jordan, Ethiopia, and Nigeria. In Jordan, researchers are looking to identify what kind of policy or financial support can improve a family’s chances of recovering from climate shocks. In Ethiopia, the focus is on finding resilient, sustainable, and long-term solutions to provide water, sanitation, and hygiene for displaced people, and, similarly, in Nigeria, conflict-affected communities’ vulnerabilities to changes in water systems is being investigated.

Second, CGIAR is providing UNHCR and its country partners with the evidence and insights needed to build enabling policies and secure funding for the climate action agenda. 

In Guatemala, for example, national policies largely fail to consider the interlinked issues of displacement, conflict, and climate—despite the country being home to hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people and asylum seekers. A forthcoming policy brief recommends that national climate policies are designed to alleviate risks and vulnerabilities linked with displacement, and that climate finance mechanisms are set up to work for displaced people, including women, youth, and Indigenous peoples. 

Finally, raising awareness on these challenges and capacity development have been priorities. Within UNHCR, CGIAR researchers have co-hosted global and regional brown-bag-lunch events for around 180 staffers, presenting evidence on the links between climate change, human security, and displacement. 

CGIAR and UNHCR have also collaborated on events, including at the Africa Climate Week, the 28th Climate Change Conference (COP 28), and the Global Refugee Forum.

Next steps for a growing partnership

Cementing its commitment to advancing climate solutions for refugees and displaced people, CGIAR in 2023 joined the Global Refugee Forum multi-stakeholder pledge on climate action and finance as a technical contributor under the Global Compact on Refugees. In this pledge, UNHCR, CGIAR, and other partners commit to strengthening the protection, preparedness, and climate resilience of refugees, other forcibly displaced and stateless people, and their host communities. 

CGIAR and UNHCR are set to sign a Memorandum of Understanding, formalizing the working partnership between the two institutions, during 2024.

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On April 8, 2024 CGIAR and UNHCR signed a Memorandum of Understanding, to formalize the working partnership.


Author: Marianne Gadeberg, Independent Communications Consultant

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