• Maxine Alleyne & Hélène Glenisson | IOM Caribbean

We are now approaching the annual Conference of the Parties COP28 (30 November – 12 December in the United Arab Emirates), where civil society have been increasingly playing an important role in discussions on environmental migration. Globally, we have seen growing advocacy for climate action coming from civil society and youth movements, as the impacts of climate change are becoming more frequent and prominent worldwide, and especially right here in the Caribbean.  

The effects of climate change in the Caribbean have demonstrated in several ways including forced displacement of entire communities. Civil society organizations (CSOs) are a strong force for making the voices of marginalized and vulnerable communities heard and amplified, by giving representation to the traditionally under-represented communities to ensure that no one is left behind.  

But civil society can also be a crucial actor when it comes to climate immobility – which is the other side of the same coin. Climate immobility, an emerging area of interest, can be involuntary when people who aspire to leave lack the capacity to do so, or it can be voluntary when people choose to remain despite the risks. Involuntarily immobile individuals and communities, also known as “trapped populations,” are often among the most vulnerable because they are unable to escape the impacts of climate disasters and often do not have the resources to build resilience as they face poverty, health issues, and food insecurity amongst others. Inequalities related to gender, age and disability also influence the capacity to move or not in the wake of risks.  Examples of this were documented recently during the 2021 eruption of the La Soufriere volcano in St Vincent & the Grenadines.  In one instance, an elderly man was left behind by his family during the evacuation of the Red Zone.   

Civil Society Organizations are essential players in averting, minimizing and addressing human immobility driven by the adverse impacts of climate change, as they are the closest to the populations on the ground and best placed to know their needs.  

  • CSOs provide representation to vulnerable groups in society, including youth, elderly, people with disabilities, migrants, indigenous people, and others.   
  • They also create knowledge networks between individuals advocating for specific causes, and are key for mobilizing national counterparts and regional communities. 
  • Strong CSOs can help to ensure accountability and transparency in policies and programmes, including humanitarian responses to trapped populations. 
  • Due to their strong community base and knowledge of local contexts, motivations, customs, and systems, civil society can be instrumental in informing voluntarily immobile individuals and communities, by sharing relevant information of the risks, and providing assurance that might counteract the reluctance to move. 
  • CSOs, if engaged in the process of communicating with communities, design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of projects, programmes and policies, can contribute to reducing the human insecurities that affect displaced people. Their representation can ensure that affected populations attain durable solutions in a manner that they are free from fear, free from want, and free to live in dignity. 

The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration (GCM) calls for a whole-of-society approach that “promotes broad multi-stakeholder partnerships to address migration in all its dimensions by including migrants, diasporas, local communities, civil society, academia, the private sector, (…) and other relevant stakeholders in migration governance” (GCM, 2018: para. 15). 

Climate immobility is a reality within the Caribbean and can result in individuals and communities being exposed to extreme risks, sometimes ending in disaster.  IOM Caribbean is strongly committed to empowering CSOs to be strong national and regional partners in averting, preventing and addressing climate immobility by enhancing their access to information and resources, resulting in more robust  contributions to governance and development processes.   

With the support of partners such as the French Government, IOM has been investing in strengthening regional and global networks of CSOs, and supporting capacity building on human mobility and immobility in the face of the adverse impacts of climate change. A series of webinars organized by the Organization earlier this year provided a significant opportunity for sharing knowledge with and between CSOs across the Caribbean, and forming a strong network for action and advocacy. 

At IOM, we hold the view that more can be achieved for individuals and communities by working in partnership to achieve common goals, including the Sustainable Development Goals. Engaging more well-informed and networked CSOs will improve awareness, help reduce the inequalities, build resilience, and meet the needs of the most vulnerable, who are often voiceless and feel powerless to make demands or effect change.