Unite, Act, Deliver:

the nexus between climate change and human mobility at COP28

By Annemarijn Cozijnsen

On December 12, 2023, the 28th Conference of the Parties (COP28) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) concluded in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). COP28 was an important UN Summit – lasting from November 30 until December 12, 2023 -, bringing nations and other stakeholders together in order to find global solutions to the climate crisis. Some 85,000 participants were present at COP28, sharing ideas and building coalitions. Herein, the critical connections between climate change and human mobility were highlighted too.

Pope Francis – himself unable to attend COP28 because of illness – also urged the UNFCCC parties to intensify climate action. Cardinal Secretary of State Pietro Parolin spoke Pope Francis’ words when stating that “the destruction of the environment is an offense against God, a sin that is not only personal but also structural, one that greatly endangers all human beings, especially the most vulnerable in our midst”. In regards to the most vulnerable groups, he mentioned the poor as “the real victims of what is happening”: “we need think only of the plight of indigenous peoples, deforestation, the tragedies of hunger, water and food insecurity, and forced migration.” (1)

Indeed, climate change and (forced) migration are deeply intertwined, as the impacts of environmental shifts increasingly drive the movement of human communities and populations worldwide. Rising sea levels, intensified natural disasters like hurricanes and wildfires, prolonged droughts, and other climatic alterations make areas inhospitable and force communities to migrate. Moreover, effects of climate change also exacerbate the difficulties faced by displaced communities. As the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) states, today nearly 60% of the world’s displaced people live in countries that are most vulnerable to climate change.(2) Thus, after fleeing persecution, violence, and war, they are confronted with climate disasters and hazards.

In Pope Francis’ December 2nd speech, he already called on world leaders to make COP28 a turning point, encouraging ecological transitions in the fields of “energy efficiency; renewable sources; the elimination of fossil fuels; and education in lifestyles that are less dependent on the latter.”(3) As COP28 is now concluded, it has become clear that the summit brought many agreements aimed at preventing climate change and global warming, in line with the key pillars of i) fast-tracking a just, orderly, and equitable energy transition; ii) fixing climate finance; iii) focusing on people, lives and

livelihoods; and iv) underpinning everything with full inclusivity.(4) A key outcome of COP28, for example, is that almost all countries agreed on transitioning away from fossil fuels, one of the main drivers of climate change. This is the first time such an agreement has been reached after 28 years of international climate negotiations.(5)

Discussing the nexus between climate change and human mobility specifically, several important stakeholders were present at COP28. Organizations such as the UNHCR, the International Organization for Migration (IOM), and the Global Centre for Climate Mobility (GCCM) were involved in many sessions regarding climate-induced migration. The IOM, for example, urged the UNFCCC parties to scale up climate adaptation, strengthen resilience and solidarity, accelerate just transitions, enhance inclusive mobilization, while promoting human rights.(6) In these sessions, the connections between climate events, human mobility, gender, health, security, and the importance of youth engagement and empowerment were discussed, leading to many new agreements and initiatives. On day 4 of COP28, 74 countries and 40 organizations endorsed the COP28 UAE Declaration on Climate, Relief, Recovery & Peace. This declaration focuses on climate finance for highly vulnerable and fragile areas along with a package of financial, programming and partnerships solutions.

According to Pope Francis, in order to tackle climate change and climate-induced forced migration, political as well as cultural changes are needed; changes supported by the Catholic Church. He called upon the world to “emerge from the narrowness of self-interest and nationalism”, and ensure the participation of all in battling climate change.(7) In line with this inclusive approach, COP28 opened the stage to displaced climate activists, on behalf of millions of other people displaced due to climate change. They argued that within the global climate discussion, world leaders and global stakeholders should listen to the voices of communities themselves. Indeed, as Nhial Deng, a youth advocate and South Sudanese refugee, stated: “the climate crisis is a human crisis”, and “we need to listen to the voices of communities who are on the frontline; we need to see them as experts.”(8)


1 Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28, 2023),


2 The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR, 2023). Refugees and displaced people from climate frontlines call for greater inclusion at COP28.


3 Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28, 2023).

4 UNFCCC (2023). Summary of Global Climate Action at COP 28.


5 CarbonBrief (2023). COP28: Key outcomes agreed at the UN climate talks in Dubai.


6 International Organization for Migration (IOM, 2023). Human Mobility at COP28. https://environmentalmigration.iom.int/human-mobility-cop-28

7 Address of His Holiness Pope Francis to the Conference of Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP28, 2023).

8 The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR, 2023).