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UNHCR: Refugees and displaced people need seats at COP28 table

Briefing notes

UNHCR: Refugees and displaced people need seats at COP28 table

18 November 2022
Mauritania. Lake's dwindling waters threaten farming and fishing communities
An aerial view of the dwindling waters of Lake Mahmouda, in Mauritania.

As COP27 today wraps in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is sounding the alarm on behalf of refugees and displaced people for whom the climate emergency is piling crisis upon crisis.

For the first time, the voices of refugees and displaced people from the climate frontlines echoed inside the halls of the UN’s climate change conference. This year at COP27, displaced people from Sudan, Yemen, Niger, and beyond warned that nearly all of their attempts to adapt to their changing environment are outpaced by the speed of climate change.

While I am proud that UNHCR and our partners worked alongside displaced people to ensure they were seen and heard at COP27, we must go further.

UNHCR is calling for inclusion of refugees and displaced people in the COP27 outcome document. Refugees and displaced people are among those most exposed to the climate crisis, many are seeking safety in countries that have done the least to contribute to climate change and yet have the least resources to adapt.

Displaced people also expect seats at COP28 negotiation tables to ensure decisions are not taken for them, without them.

We must see dedicated support and scaled-up financing for the countries on the frontlines of the climate emergency, as it is often these same countries that have provided protection to refugees for decades. This is what UNHCR reiterated in Sharm El Sheikh last week: world leaders have the responsibility to ensure that climate action finance not only reaches climate-vulnerable countries but also displaced people and their host communities. With over 70 per cent of the world’s displaced people coming from the most climate-vulnerable countries, we must see explicit recognition of refugees and displaced people in the COP27 outcome document.

UNHCR was pleased to see the issue of loss and damage caused by climate change on the agenda for the first time at this year’s conference. Over the last two weeks, I heard desperate cries from climate-impacted countries demanding funding from other states with historically higher carbon emissions to help them prepare for and recover from climate-driven disasters. But there are limits to adaptation, and we must be prepared for inevitable loss and damage, such as displacement, for which additional resources must be mobilized. The cries of displaced people and their host communities and countries will only get louder, which is why loss and damage must become a standard COP agenda item. From the perspective of the refugees and displaced people on the climate frontlines, there is no greater example of loss and damage than of having to flee your home and cross a border to seek refuge.

Before attending COP27, I was in Mozambique where I witnessed first-hand the devastating dual impacts of climate disasters and a violent conflict that has displaced close to one million people since 2017. Mozambique, one of the most climate-vulnerable countries, is now home to changing weather patterns inducing extreme weather events such as cyclones and tropical storms, that are becoming more frequent and intense. The country has endured five tropical storms and cyclones this year.

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