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Front. Clim., 14 March 2023
Sec. Climate Mobility
Volume 5 - 2023 |

Addressing climate-related human mobility through NDCs and NAPs: State of play, good practices, and the ways forward

  • 1SLYCAN Trust, Colombo, Sri Lanka
  • 2United Nations University-Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), Bonn, Germany

Climate change is altering human mobility patterns across the globe, particularly in climate-vulnerable developing countries. With increasing recognition of the complex interlinkages between climate change and human mobility, governments and subnational authorities have begun to address this nexus in planning and policy processes, including Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs). To better understand how human mobility is integrated into NDCs and NAPs, we analyzed 171 NDCs and 40 NAPs, and conducted 20 semi-structured interviews and 16 workshops and webinars. We find that human mobility is increasingly featured in NDCs, but only few countries propose concrete interventions to address adverse effects or promote adaptive aspects of human mobility. The study also finds that many countries primarily focus on mobility as a risk, challenge, or problem while some have incorporated positive aspects of mobility (e.g., migration as an adaptation strategy). Through six concise case studies, the paper focuses on good practices from specific NDCs and NAPs that can enhance the integration of human mobility in a range of priority policy sectors for adaptation and loss and damage. To move forward, interviewees and workshop participants emphasized the need for adequate finance, institutional capacities, and data to strengthen the integration of human mobility into NDCs and NAPs. There is a need to identify and better understand potential policy interventions at the local, national, and global level, and to assess their impact and map potential synergies.

1. Introduction

Climate change is shaping the patterns of human (im)mobility and related decision-making on the individual, household, community, municipal, sector, and national level worldwide, particularly in climate-vulnerable developing countries (Afifi et al., 2016; Martin et al., 2022). The interlinkages between climate risks, migration, disaster displacement, planned relocation, and other forms of human (im)mobility are complex, systemic, and cross-cutting (Table 1) (Thalheimer et al., 2021). Climate change is often considered a “risk multiplier” (Black et al., 2011), intersecting with political, economic, social, and demographic factors. Together, these factors intensify vulnerabilities as well as conditions of poverty and food insecurity that affect human (im)mobility. Rapid-onset events tend to lead to more temporary and short-distance migration, whereas slow-onset events tend to lead to more permanent and long-distance migration (McLeman and Gemenne, 2018). Most migrants stay within their own countries, while those who cross state borders tend to go to neighboring countries. This pattern is shaped by economic, social, and cultural attachment. Migration from regions in which households and communities have high levels of exposure to climate-related hazards and low levels of adaptive capacity increases as climate change intensifies (Boas et al., 2019). This is particularly the case in countries where a large part of the population works in subsistence agriculture (Hoffmann et al., 2020). While the predominant discourse emphasizes the negative outcomes of human mobility, positive outcomes also exist (Elliott, 2010; Gemenne and Blocher, 2017; Sakdapolrak et al., 2019). Positive outcomes of mobility, such as migration as adaptation through, for example, livelihood diversification, tend to be linked to human mobility that is safe, orderly, and regular, involving some type of anticipation and planning (Vinke et al., 2020). Nevertheless, whether or not individuals or households can use migration as an adaptation strategy depends on the reasons why they leave their homes, the circumstances in which they move, and the conditions they face at their destination, which can lead to increased vulnerabilities when migration fails to secure peoples' livelihoods (Warner et al., 2012; Evertsen and van der Geest, 2020). Personal characteristics such as gender identity, race, disability, health, age, or education level also determine the outcome of migration.


Table 1. Forms of human (im)mobility.

Due to the increasing pressure of climate change on human livelihoods and countries, subnational authorities have begun to recognize and address the previously described nexus of climate change and human mobility in their planning and policy processes (Oakes et al., 2022). This includes local and national climate change adaptation, risk management, and development frameworks, but also commitments and processes under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), such as Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs).

NDCs are vehicles through which Parties to the Paris Agreement articulate their commitments toward the achievement of the long-term goals presented in the Paris Agreement, embodying the efforts by each country to reduce national emissions and adapt to the impacts of climate change (UNFCCC, 2015). Parties also committed to preparing and submitting NDCs every 5 years starting from 2015, representing the bottom-up commitments and, therefore, the highest ambition of each Party. The NDCs build on the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). At COP 20 in 2014, all Parties were invited to communicate information on adaptation or to include a component on adaptation in their INDCs (UNFCCC, 2015).

The NAP process was established at the Conference of the Parties (COP) 16 in 2010 under the Cancun Adaptation Framework to identify medium and long-term adaptation needs and to develop and implement strategies, programs, and plans to address those needs (UNFCCC, 2011). Based on the Cancun Adaptation Framework (as outlined in FCCC/CP/2010/7/Add.1), which established the NAP process primarily for least developed countries and invites other developing country Parties (Par. 15 and 16) to use the same modalities to develop their own NAPs. NAPs build on the National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA), established in 2001, to help LDCs respond to their urgent and immediate adaptation needs (UNFCCC, 2002). NAPs have two objectives: (1) to reduce vulnerability to climate change impacts by increasing adaptive capacity and building resilience and (2) to facilitate the integration of climate change adaptation into relevant policies, plans, and processes, particularly development planning (UNFCCC, 2012).

Policy approaches to address the impacts, vulnerabilities, and compound or cascading risks associated with different forms of human mobility are currently not adequately understood or systemically implemented (IOM, 2018). However, progress has been made in recent years. As key national documents, NDCs and NAPs can be important vehicles to mainstream human mobility into national policy frameworks and catalyze solutions across all sectors and levels. NDCs and NAPs are vital instruments for identifying, communicating, and addressing countries' mid- and long-term needs and priorities related to mitigation, adaptation, and loss and damage and also serve as financing vehicles for the aforementioned endeavors. Both the NDC and the NAP process can address human (im)mobility issues related to climate change in two ways, first, by alleviating pressures related to migration, averting displacement, and reducing the need for planned relocation, and second, by supporting migration as adaptation (Warner et al., 2014).

A few reports have already focused on the integration of human mobility into NDCs and NAPs; however, these mainly emphasize how integration can be improved by providing guidelines and toolkits and do not analyze how human mobility actually features in the current generation of NDCs and NAPs (Warner et al., 2014; IOM, 2016; Fransen et al., 2019; IOM, UNDP, and UNEP, 2021; Martin et al., 2022). To address this gap, this study assesses the state of play, good practices, and ways forward simultaneously. We define good practices as those who take a balanced few of human mobility by first of all describing what the human mobility term refers to, by accounting for all relevant types of human mobility, and by focusing on not just negative outcomes but also positive outcomes and opportunities. The mentioned list of good practices is incomplete and provides a short overview of cases where this balanced view of human mobility is integrated.

Based on a detailed analysis of NDCs and NAPs submitted to the UNFCCC, this paper explores how human mobility has been integrated into adaptation and loss and damage components of these processes, what categories of interventions are included, how human mobility connects to critical sectors, and how mobility considerations can be better incorporated into the NDCs and NAP process, including groundwork, preparatory elements, formulation, implementation, monitoring, and reporting. Furthermore, we pay specific attention to spatial differences in the integration of human mobility into NDCs and NAPs.

When human mobility is well-integrated into NDCs and NAPs, these processes can play an essential role in enhancing the protection of people on the move as well as individuals left behind by contributing to adaptive responses, resilience-building, and measures to address climate-induced loss and damage. However, only a minority of the NDCs and NAPs submitted to the UNFCCC include human mobility in their commitments and actions. Of those NDCs and NAPs that do integrate human mobility, most tend to focus on the adverse outcomes of human mobility, such as informal settlement, and rural depopulation, instead of opportunities and potential positive outcomes, such as migration as adaptation, reduced expose and vulnerability, successful relocation, and the use of remittances for supporting adaptation in migrant source areas. Additionally, only some of the NDCs and NAPs account for the rising numbers of people who are unable or unwilling to move away from areas of high climate risks or where habitability thresholds are being approached.

This paper explores three key questions to identify the state of play as well as the potential for enhancing the integration of human mobility into NDCs and NAPs:

1. To what extent and in which ways do NDCs and NAPs currently consider and address different forms of human mobility, and do spatial differences in the integration of human mobility exist?

2. What are the fundamental categories of mobility-related actions in NDCs and NAPs, and how do they connect to the priority sectors for adaptation and loss and damage.

3. Where are the needs and opportunities for strengthening the integration of human mobility into NDCs, NAPs, and other national policy frameworks?

To address the first and second questions in more detail, three brief case studies for NDCs (Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Zimbabwe) and three case studies for NAPs (Fiji, Ethiopia, and Guatemala) will be presented to highlight existing “good practices” of integrating human mobility into national policy frameworks.

2. Methodology

Our methodologies involved multiple approaches, including literature research, an analysis of second and updated NDCs as well as all NAPs submitted until December 2022, in-person and online workshops, and online interviews (Table 2). The analysis involved the identification of percentages, categories, and examples of considerations and commitments related to human mobility. Based on a list of keywords and phrases compiled through a preliminary literature review, stakeholder inputs, and previous research conducted by SLYCAN Trust, mobility considerations (grouped under migration, displacement, and relocation) were identified in NDCs and NAPs and analyzed using CATMA 6.5.3 (Table A7). Furthermore, the analysis focused on identifying the priority sectors of human mobility integrations in submitted NDCs and NAPs not only to learn from case studies but also to identify action and support needs related to human mobility. Additionally, insights from in-person and online workshops conducted by SLYCAN Trust in 2020–2022 covering topics such as integrating human mobility into climate policies and action, and addressing loss and damage were collected and implemented in this paper.


Table 2. Overview of research activities.

As part of the project “Global Guide and Toolkit on Integrating Human Mobility from a rural livelihood perspective into NAPs and NDCs,” funded by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and conducted by the United Nations University of Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), 20 semi-structured online interviews with 33 stakeholders were conducted. The interviewed stakeholders included representatives from governments, civil society organizations (CSOs), UN agencies from seven selected case study countries (Argentina, Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Fiji, Guatemala, Nepal, and Zimbabwe), and global experts on climate policy, human mobility, and rural livelihoods. The seven case study countries were selected based on their diverse geographic, climatic, and environmental diversity, differences in how existing NDCs and NAPs integrate human mobility as well as existing connections to relevant stakeholders in each country. The questions of the semi-structured interviews covered the nexus of climate, human mobility, and rural livelihoods, as well as context-specific needs, barriers, and possible approaches to overcome previously identified barriers when integrating the nexus into NDCs and NAPs. The interviews were recorded for internal purposes, transcribed, and relevant sections were integrated into section seven.

3. Incorporating human mobility into NDCs

In line with Article 4, paragraph 12 of the Paris Agreement, a total of 194 Parties have submitted their first, second, or updated Nationally Determined Contributions to the UNFCCC from 2016 to 2022 (UNFCCC, 2015). The initial NDCs are supposed to be updated with enhanced ambition every five years (i.e., in 2020, 2025, 2030, etc.), but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many submissions for the 2020 window got delayed. As of December 2022, 171 second or updated NDCs have been submitted as part of the second round, representing 88% of Parties to the Paris Agreement (the complete list of analyzed NDCs can be found in the Annex).

In the first round of submitted NDCs, a study undertaken by undertaken by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) found that only 20% of (I)NDCs submitted by 2016 contained any provision related to migration (IOM, 2016). A similar mapping carried out by the Task Force on Displacement under the Warsaw International Mechanism (WIM) and IOM in 2018 found the same ratio of 20% among a total of 193 submissions at that time (IOM, 2018).

Out of the new or updated NDCs submitted by 171 Parties in 2019–2022 (up to December 2022), 41.5% reference human mobility in some way (list of analyzed NDCs in Annex). Figure 1 displays the percentage of NDCs that either mention, make concrete provisions, or do not reference migration, displacement, and relocation. The most common form of human mobility referenced in NDCs is migration, which is mentioned in one-third of all NDCs and addressed through concrete commitments in one-tenth (11%). When attempting to examine whether NDCs predominantly reference internal or international migration, no proper quantitative assessment was possible since the majority of NDCs and NAPs do not define mobility terminology. However, the usage seems to be broadly in line with the definitions set out in Table 1. If NDCs and NAPs do define the term migration, they often refer to internal migration. Moreover, displacement features in 22% of all NDCs, with 7.6% containing commitments. Finally, relocation is only present in 14.6% of NDCs, and only 8.8% include related commitments.


Figure 1. Percentage of NDCs that do not reference (first column), mention (second column), or contain concrete provisions (third column) related to migration, displacement, and planned relocation. NDCs containing concrete provisions are also counted under mentions (SLYCAN Trust, 2022).

Most NDCs reference and address human mobility as a problem or challenge, often in the context of climate risks, vulnerable groups, and communities, or causes of conflict. This finding is in accordance with the current literature on framing migrants and displaced and relocated people in policy documents or debates (Elliott, 2010; Farbotko, 2018; Durand-Delacre et al., 2021). Accordingly, most commitments and actions focus on avoiding or reducing adverse impacts and maladaptive aspects of climate mobility. The second main category of actions focuses on providing protection and support for those affected, i.e., migrants and displaced persons as vulnerable groups in need of shelter, livelihood opportunities, or healthcare. However, some countries have included provisions beyond this “negative” view of human mobility, aiming to utilize mobility as an adaptation strategy and strengthen the benefits and potential synergies of migration or relocation.

The most common actions related to human mobility in NDCs are presented in Table 3 (an extended version can be found in the Annex). They can be categorized as those related to awareness building, data and evidence, policy coherence and integration, regional and international processes, anticipatory planning, protection and support, resilience-building, and, in some cases, mobility as an adaptation strategy.


Table 3. Categories of mobility-related actions in NDCs.

In the following, three NDCs (Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, and Zimbabwe) will be presented as brief “good practice” to explain how these countries are already integrating human mobility into their national climate planning. Papua New Guinea has the only NDC with a dedicated adaptation section on climate-induced human mobility (Government of Papua New Guinea, 2020). This priority has already been established in the first NDC. The section mentions many different and relevant forms of human mobility, such as migration, displacement, and relocation. The commitments in the NDCs related to the integration of human mobility cover awareness creation, data collection (gender and social inclusion assessments, consultations with migrants and host communities), development, and planning (construction of buildings and infrastructure, government relocation plans, preparatory activities for relocation).

Vanuatu's revised and enhanced first NDC can be considered one of the most progressive NDCs in integrating human mobility (Government of Vanuatu, 2022). The NDC mentions three of the four types of human mobility directly (migration, displacement, and relocation) and immobility indirectly by emphasizing the importance of targeting people with disabilities due to their lower ability to evacuate safely in cases of disasters. Vanuatu has six commitments regarding human mobility in the following priority areas: loss and damage, health, and people with disabilities. Vanuatu's NDC is also one of the few that acknowledges the direct connection between climate and human mobility by using the term “climate-displaced people.” Furthermore, for each target, the NDC provides a specific policy reference, a link to Vanuatu's National Sustainable Development Plan, the most relevant SDGs, the level of conditionality of finance required from developed country Parties, and the overall financial envelope to meet the target by 2030 successfully. Making the costs of implementing each commitment transparent does not only indicate the great depths of the analysis but makes these commitments more concrete and tangible.

Zimbabwe's NDC also acknowledges climate's direct and indirect impacts on migration (forced and voluntary) and displacement patterns in the country (Government of Zimbabwe, 2021). Zimbabwe takes a balanced view of human mobility by recognizing the potential positive and negative outcomes of human mobility by using the terms “voluntary” and “forced” migration. On the one hand, Zimbabwe emphasizes the importance of voluntary seasonal migration in search of livelihood opportunities and remittance flows from Zimbabwean emigrants for society and the economy (8% of its total GDP in 2019). On the other hand, the NDC acknowledges issues associated with developing illegal and unplanned settlements due to increasing numbers of voluntary and displaced people and refugees due to climate change and conflict (forced migration). Since 2010 the number of refugees in Zimbabwe has doubled mainly as a consequence of slow-onset migration from ecosystem degradation and environmental events. At the same time, Zimbabwe recognizes migrants as marginalized groups which are exposed more directly or indirectly to climate-related hazards, emphasizing this group's need for support.

4. Incorporating human mobility into NAPs

A total of 40 countries have submitted National Adaptation Plans to the UNFCCC from 2015–2022 to December 2022 (list of analyzed NAPs in Annex). Out of these, the vast majority (82.5%) reference human mobility. Disaster displacement is the type of human mobility which is referenced most often. However, there are considerable differences between the number of NAPs that simply mention human mobility (82.5%) and those that contain concrete provisions (70%).

Figure 2 displays the percentage of NAPs that either mention, make concrete provisions, or do not reference migration, displacement, and relocation. While 65% of NAPs mention climate-related migration, only 40% include actions or commitments related to it. Similarly, disaster displacement is mentioned in 70% of NAPs, but only 42.5% include actions or commitments. In the case of planned relocation, almost every NAP that mentions this (52.5%) also contains concrete provisions (47.5%).


Figure 2. Percentage of NAPs that do not reference (first column), mention (second column), or contain concrete provisions related to (third column) migration, displacement, and planned relocation. NAPs containing concrete provisions are also included under mentions (SLYCAN Trust, 2022).

Similar to NDCs, the submitted NAPs tend to view human mobility as a negative outcome of climate change. NAPs also recognize migrants, displaced persons, and relocated communities as vulnerable groups and focus their mobility components and actions on supporting these vulnerable groups. Compared to NDCs, the analysis indicates a greater emphasis on policy coherence and integration with subnational and sectoral planning processes, as well as a focus on proactive and anticipatory planning for expected future mobility and potential actions to manage it. The NAPs also strongly emphasize national action and the enhancement of the domestic policy and planning environment rather than connections to regional and global processes.

The most common actions related to human mobility in NAPs can be categorized as those related to data and evidence, policy coherence, policy integration, anticipatory planning (primarily focused on planned relocation), enabling environment, protection and support, resilience-building, and, in some cases, mobility as an adaptation strategy (Table 4). An extended version of Table 4 can be found in the Annex.


Table 4. Categories of mobility-related actions in NAPs.

In the following, three country NAPs (Fiji, Ethiopia, and Guatemala) will be presented as brief case studies to explain how these countries are already integrating human mobility into national climate planning. Fiji communicates in its NAP the goal of facilitating safe, regular, and responsible migration and mobility of people, which is in line with the Global Compact for Migration (Republic of Fiji, 2018). It also includes two adaptation measures that consider human mobility, one of which focuses on strengthening the capacity of sub-national development planning processes to integrate human mobility. With the publication of the “Displacement Guidelines—In the context of climate change and disasters” and the “Planned Relocation Guideline—A framework to undertake climate change-related relocation” 2 years after the NAP, the country was able to put the aforementioned action goals into practice. Consequently, Fiji is one of the few countries where measures related to integrating human mobility in NAPs have already been put into practice.

Ethiopia displays a balanced view of human mobility in its NAP by emphasizing that climate change, specifically increases in temperature and droughts, heatwaves, and storms, can have adverse human mobility outcomes, such as making individuals or households more vulnerable or leading to displacements (Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 2019). At the same time, Ethiopia's NAP also recognizes positive outcomes, for example, seasonal labor migration as an adaptation strategy and possibility to diversify income which otherwise tends to solely depend on agriculture. Accordingly, Ethiopia aims to increase adaptation success by arranging voluntary resettlement and migration opportunities for vulnerable communities and promoting safety nets, asset creation, access to credit, and livelihood diversification.

Guatemala is one of the only countries with a whole chapter in its NAP explicitly dedicated to the nexus of climate and human mobility (Government of Guatemala, 2018). In this chapter, the country accounts for almost all relevant forms of human mobility, such as forced displacement, voluntary migration, and planned relocations shaped by climate change. The three primary needs include (1) assistance and support of migrants; (2) reducing displacement by reducing vulnerability and enhancing resilience; and (3) facilitating migration from high-risk areas and developing processes for planned relocation. Furthermore, Guatemala considers its chapter and working plan on the nexus of climate and human mobility as a contribution to its commitment under the WIM. Also, it links its NAP to other existing and relevant frameworks, such as the Paris Agreement, the Sendai Framework, and the Nansen Initiative, which is an important step toward combining and connecting efforts of related frameworks and initiatives

5. Spatial comparison of integration in NAPs and NDCs

Considering a spatial lens in analyzing human mobility integration in NDCs and NAPs adds an important dimension. We decided to calculate the percentage of NDCs and NAPs out of the total of analyzed NDCs and NAPs which integrate any type of human mobility for the following four regions: Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe & North America (including Turkey and Russia), and Latin America & Caribbean (Table 5). We also determined for each region the percentage of integration of the specific types of human mobility (migration, displacement, and relocation) for the NDCs and NAPs that do integrate human mobility out of the total of NDCs and NAPs. For all regions, except Europe & North America, the percentage of human mobility in general and the specific types is higher in NAPs. This can be linked to the fact that NAPs focus on adaptation which applies very well to the human mobility context, whereas in NDCs, adaptation can but does not have to be incorporated. Migration is most referenced in the NAPs of Africa, displacement is most referenced in the NAPs of Asia-Pacific and Latin America & Caribbean, whereas relocation is most referenced in NAPs of Africa. These results are discussed in greater depth at the national level in the paragraph after the next one.


Table 5. Integration of any type of human mobility and specific types (migration, displacement, and relocation) in NDCs and NAPs by region out of the total analyzed NDCs and NAPs.

Furthermore, in Figure 3, the integration of human mobility in NDCs and NAPs at the country level is displayed. What stands out is that predominantly countries in the Global South integrate human mobility in their NDCs and NAPs. However, NAPs are a special case since so far, predominantly countries of the Global South, except for Albania and Armenia, have submitted NAPs. When comparing NDCs and NAPs, one can also detect that more concrete provisions are made in NAPs. For NAPs, it is mainly the countries in Africa and Latin America which provide concrete provisions. Additionally, we examined that if countries integrated human mobility in their NDCs, it is often the case that they also integrate human mobility in their NAPs. At the same time, there are also cases exist where human mobility was not integrated into NDCs but into NAPs. This phenomenon applies mainly to countries in South America (e.g., Brazil, Chile, and Peru).


Figure 3. Overview of human mobility is integrated in (A) NDCs and (B) NAPs.

Next, we split up the reference of human mobility by mobility type, migration, displacement, and relocation in NDCs and NAPs at the national level (Figure 4). Here, we detect that migration and displacement are not mentioned in the Global North for NDCs. For both NDCs and NAPs, migration is most often referenced in African countries. This high level of integration is linked to high levels of especially internal migration in African countries as well as high levels of vulnerability and low levels of resilience due to the high dependence on agriculture for livelihoods (Rigaud et al., 2021). Displacement is referenced in some countries of all regions except Europe but specifically close to the equator. This can be associated with the strong climatic and environmental pressures experienced by countries close to the equator, forcing those countries to integrate displacement into their policies to address L&D (IDMC, 2022). Moreover, relocation is the main type of human mobility mentioned in the Global North (Russia) and, as expected, also coastal areas and islands. The latter result is based on the high risk of sea level rise experienced by coastal areas and islands, which has forced many affected countries and islands to find possible approaches, such as relocation, to adapt or address L&D (Bongarts Lebbe et al., 2021).


Figure 4. Integration of migration, displacement, and relocation in (a) NDCs and (b) NAPs.

We also determined the number of human mobility types referenced in NDCs and NAPs at the national level (Supplementary Figure 1). Here, we examine a similar picture as in the previous section. More NAPs than NDCs integrate multiple types of human mobility. 13 NAPs (6 Africa, 3 Asia & Pacific, 3 Latin America, and 1 Caribbean) and 13 NDCs (6 Asia & Pacific, 4 Caribbean, 2 Europe & North America, and 1 Africa) even integrate all three types of human mobility. Countries in the Global North either do not integrate human mobility or only mention one type, whereas countries of the Global South mention many different types of human mobility. This result is linked again to climate extremes being more severe in countries of the Global South, resulting in different types of human mobility becoming relevant as an outcome of climatic and environmental changes (IPCC, 2022).

6. Human mobility connections in NDC and NAP priority sectors

The analysis of NDCs and NAPs found that human mobility is most often referenced in or linked with several key sectors. Table 6 provides an overview of some of the most common connections to human mobility in these sectors based on a synthesis of contents and references within the submitted documents. The agriculture sector, water resources, human health, natural ecosystems, human settlements, and the coastal and marine sector are the ones that tend to be linked to different forms of mobility. In addition, cross-cutting considerations related to human mobility that are recurring throughout the NDCs and NAPs include livelihoods, food security, land ownership, the informal economy, gender, children and youth, the elderly, skill development, social protection, risk management, as well as, to a lesser degree, education, awareness creation, human rights, regional or international collaboration, and access to finance and financial literacy for migrants.


Table 6. Priority sectors and links to human mobility.

Many country submissions identify direct or indirect links between climate change and their national priority sectors. Extreme weather events and sudden shocks are mentioned, but also slow-onset events and long-term impacts related to livelihoods, ecosystem services, habitat shifts, human health, infrastructure, and housing. Regarding cross-cutting considerations, gender, age, and poverty are often mentioned as intersectional risk factors that need to be addressed through social protection and building adaptive capacities. However, several countries have also included commitments related to the empowerment of women as well as gender and intergenerational equity, assigning a more active role and positive potential to women and youth.

The strong linkages of human mobility to different sectors highlight the importance of considering processes and policies in these sectors during the development and implementation of NDCs and NAPs. In many NAPs that include human mobility, this vertical and horizontal integration is already part of the intended actions, for example, by connecting adaptation planning to the water, housing, urban planning, or labor sector or by linking it to development planning, relief programs, livelihood support, education, and social protection. Similarly, processes on the national or subnational level should align with climate commitments to harness synergies and ensure a coherent policy framework that mainstreams climate mobility considerations.

7. Needs and opportunities for integrating human mobility into NDCs and NAPs

Even though the findings from this paper suggest a rising awareness of climate change as a driving or influencing factor of human mobility, the interviews with experts in the field revealed that—similar to Indigenous and rural communities, disabled people, and women—migrants, displaced, relocated, and immobile people also tend to often not be adequately integrated into climate policies. Based on the insights from the interviews, the three biggest challenges which limit the integration of human mobility into national policies such as NDCs and NAPs are (1) lack of finance, (2) lack of institutional capacity of in-charge ministries, and (3) lack of data and evidence. Even though NDCs and NAPs provide an opportunity for countries to access funding, stakeholders working on NDCs and NAP have highlighted that funding processes tend to be bureaucratic and time-consuming. According to stakeholders, even when funding is accepted, funding amounts are often insufficient to support a thorough planning and implementation process for integrating human mobility into NDCs or NAPs.

Regarding the second biggest challenge, the lack of capacity of the in-charge ministries, stakeholders pointed out that the work on NDCs or NAPs is often added to the ministries' day-to-day obligations without providing additional workforce or monetary compensation. Limited capacities of the in-charge ministries increase the difficulties of coordinating various sub-national entities and their different policies. Moreover, line ministries, which are essential contributors to the NDC and NAP process, are less able to contribute since they tend to have limited capacity and expertise regarding the technical aspects of climate change compared to larger ministries such as the Ministry of Economy or the Ministry of Agriculture. Power asymmetries and different interests of ministries also contribute to the preference of the leading ministries to work in silos. Changing governments and associated priorities and commitments also hinder long-term strategic planning, especially regarding the critical NDC and NAP phases of monitoring, evaluation, and learning (MEL). In the interviews, many stakeholders highlighted limited multi-stakeholder engagement and opportunities to provide input in the NDC and NAP processes. While almost all the insights provided by the stakeholders from the different countries were similar, large differences in the importance of the nexus of climate and human mobility were reported. A few countries viewed this nexus as a top priority whereas many neglect migration as a possible adaptation strategy. This could be due to the assumption that migration and displacement are not yet visible and urgent enough to be recognized as the country's top priorities or due to a lack of context-specific data on the nexus of climate and human mobility.

The third biggest challenge, lack of data, is an issue strongly linked to a lack of technology, infrastructure, and expertise in data science. Data on human mobility flows and stocks, especially on internal migration and immobility, as well as reasons for migration, is limited. Consequently, data on the nexus of climate change and human mobility is even rarer due to the complex and context-sensitive character of this nexus. This is the case because the transboundary dimension of human mobility is complicated to assess, not only due to data but also due to political issues. During the interviews, the stakeholders also emphasized the need to improve data on remittances since remittances have great societal and economic importance not only for migrants and their families but also for their home countries' national economies. Furthermore, data on MEL from current NDCs or NAPs is lacking.

The stakeholders also stressed that the COVID-19 pandemic further intensified the previously mentioned data needs and challenges. The pandemic hampered data availability issues by making data acquisition more difficult due to widespread lockdowns and infected staff.

Another adverse effect of the COVID-19 pandemic was that some groups in society, such as rural and indigenous communities, were further excluded from the NDC and NAP process. Their underrepresentation in the policy process increased during the COVID-19 pandemic due to predominantly online participation, which requires internet access which is often limited in these communities. Besides increasing difficulties in reaching and integrating all parts of the society, the face-to-face political dialogue was also reduced, which increased the issue of stakeholders, ministries, and governments working in silos, making the NDC and NAP development but also implementation less effective.

The stakeholders also emphasized potential areas of improvement for the current NDC and NAP processes. They highlighted that these processes need to become more practical by focusing on capacity building of developing and implementing ministries, promoting vertical and horizontal integration, and strengthening the focus on MEL. To achieve this, MEL processes need to be robustly integrated into budgets or plans. Accordingly, it is also critical to account for power regimes and actively create room for female stakeholders. To enhance implementation, sectoral or provincial NAPs provide an opportunity to better engage sectoral and local institutions in the process, allowing for a more concrete and accessible implementation of the plan. Regarding the lack of data, inclusive, participatory, and standardized approaches, and methodologies must be developed for data collection and monitoring. This should also allow for integrating local institutions (research institutions, universities), NGOs, CSOs, and affected people or communities. Data could then be utilized to raise awareness about the nexus of climate and human mobility in relevant ministries, the general public, and local communities. Furthermore, national programs must bridge the gap to the local level, since this is the level where implementation is taking place. Additionally, beyond in-charge ministries working in silos, NDCs and NAPs are often treated separately, representing an inefficient use of resources. Therefore, in-charge ministries need to invest in connecting the NAP and NDC process through, for example, data- and knowledge-sharing mechanisms, inter-ministerial coordination bodies, or multi-stakeholder engagement processes.

Based on the interviews with relevant stakeholders, the authors view NDCs and NAPs as opportunities to change the narrative of “victimhood” of climate- and conflict-affected communities by empowering them and supporting them to become more resilient and adapted. Toward this goal, NDCs and NAPs can emphasize supporting migrants, displaced and relocated persons, and immobile people in the pursuit of stability by strengthening safe, regular, and dignified migration. To allow for safe, regular, and dignified migration, female, male, and non-binary migrants need to be supported in their decision-making of where and how to migrate, promoting formal routes of migration. This can be achieved by capacity-building opportunities specifically targeted toward migrants, displaced or relocated people with a specific focus on women, allowing them to acquire the job skills they need to improve their current livelihood situations. Another emphasis should be placed on making remittance flows safer, easier, and more effective, which will help to support the families that stay behind as well as the home economies of migrants. Lastly, to prevent working in silos, not only among stakeholders, and ministries, but also among governments and countries, a platform or network which collects and exchanges “good” and “bad” practices in the field should be established to increase the effectiveness of the NDC and NAP process.

8. Conclusion

The findings of this paper suggest an increasing awareness of the importance of climate change as a driving or influencing factor for human mobility across the globe. Twice as many NAPs compared to NDCs reference human mobility (42, 83%). In comparison, NAPs make three times more provisions than NDCs to address some aspect of migration, displacement, or planned relocation (21, 70%). Out of the NDCs that mention human mobility, most refer to migration, followed by disaster displacement and planned relocation. In the NAPs that mention human mobility, displacement is referenced most often, followed by migration and planned relocation. Compared to the first round of submitted NDCs, the updated and revised submissions include more references and commitments related to human mobility. Many countries focus on mobility as a risk, challenge, or problem or on migrants as vulnerable groups. However, some other countries have also incorporated positive aspects of mobility, for example, as a potential adaptation strategy under their NDCs and NAPs (e.g., Ethiopia, Fiji, Malawi, Papua New Guinea, or Zimbabwe). Furthermore, more NAPs and NDCs account for not just one type (e.g., migration) but several types of human mobility (e.g., displacement and relocation), highlighting the many direct and indirect links between climate and migration by using terminologies such as “climate-induced migration” (Papua New Guinea) or “climate-displaced people” (Vanuatu).

The submitted NDCs and NAPs indicate a broad range of opportunities for incorporating human mobility across different sectors and stages of the NDC and NAP process. Key categories of actions are related to enhancing the evidence base, creating awareness, strengthening policy coherence (vertical or horizontal integration), anticipatory planning and early action, building resilience to prevent involuntary mobility, facilitating mobility as an adaptation strategy, developing guidelines and plans, and, last but not least, protecting and supporting those affected by climate-related human mobility. Most of these actions are connected to the most common priority adaptation sectors in the submitted NDCs and NAPs, such as food systems, human health, water resources, sanitation, natural ecosystems, human settlements, coastal and marine areas, and cross-cutting considerations. To facilitate better integration of human mobility into NDCs and NAPs, stakeholders have identified the need to enhance finance, institutional capacities, as well as data and evidence.

Limitations of our study include the lack of a detailed analysis of whether human mobility is considered mainly a positive or negative outcome of climate change or if a balanced view is taken. Additionally, because not many NDCs and NAPs specifically define the used terminology on human mobility, a degree of ambiguity in classifications is introduced. Consequently, it would be interesting to assess the positive, negative, or balanced view of integrating human (im)mobility in NDCs and NAPs in greater detail. Further research is also required to analyze NAP readiness proposals and ongoing NAP formulation processes, evaluate the impact of implemented interventions related to human mobility, as well as to identify relevant indicators and metrics which could connect to global and regional processes such as the Global Compact on Migration, the Global Goal on Adaptation, the Global Stocktake, the Sendai Framework on Disaster Risk Reduction, or the SDGs. NDCs and NAPs are not the only national documents that can contain information on human mobility or outline actions to address it. There is a need to conduct further research on this thematic area. This should occur at the country level to map the interconnections between these documents and processes under the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement on the one hand and national, subnational, and sectoral policies and plans on the other. These documents and processes relate to climate change, development, disaster management, urban planning, social protection, education, labor, and many more.

This paper simultaneously assessed the state of play, good practices, and ways forward when it comes to integrating climate-related human mobility through NDCs and NAPs. The insights gained from this analysis can and should also be applied to other climate policy frameworks. Even though we determined an increasing awareness of human mobility in climate policy frameworks, countries who are updating NDCs or developing new NDCs and NAPs must pay close attention to not just integrating human mobility but also providing concrete provisions since the intensity and frequency of extreme events that threaten the livelihoods of many inhabitants are increasing.

Data availability statement

The raw data supporting the conclusions of this article will be made available by the authors, without undue reservation.

Author contributions

DM analyzed and coded the NAPs and NDCs and wrote the NAP and NDC analysis sections. A-CL conducted and analyzed the interviews and wrote the section on the needs, challenges, opportunities, and case studies. DM and A-CL equally contributed to the abstract, introduction, and conclusion parts, while KG contributed to conceptual development and reviewed, edited, and refined the overall document and all major sections. All authors contributed to the article and approved the submitted version.


The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations funded the project on “Integrating human mobility from a rural livelihoods perspective into NAPs and NDCs: A Global Guide and Toolkit” which was conducted by UNU-EHS, and which was instrumental for developing the argument for parts of this paper based on the 20 interviews conducted.


The authors acknowledge the precious work of Anna Maria Bezerra de Mello Cárcamo and Erin Roberts in conducting the expert interviews as well as the work of SLYCAN Trust's Research & Knowledge Management division on compiling data on the submitted NDCs and NAPs.

Conflict of interest

DM was employed by SLYCAN Trust.

The remaining authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

Publisher's note

All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of their affiliated organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers. Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the publisher.

Supplementary material

The Supplementary Material for this article can be found online at:


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Keywords: human mobility, climate change, climate change adaptation, Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), national adaptation plans (NAPs), loss and damage, climate mobility, planning and policy

Citation: Mombauer D, Link A-C and van der Geest K (2023) Addressing climate-related human mobility through NDCs and NAPs: State of play, good practices, and the ways forward. Front. Clim. 5:1125936. doi: 10.3389/fclim.2023.1125936

Received: 16 December 2022; Accepted: 24 February 2023;
Published: 14 March 2023.

Edited by:

Andreas Neef, The University of Auckland, New Zealand

Reviewed by:

Sonja Fransen, Maastricht University, Netherlands
Monika Mayrhofer, University of Vienna, Austria

Copyright © 2023 Mombauer, Link and van der Geest. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) and the copyright owner(s) are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Dennis Mombauer,