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Reporting Back | UNHCR Executive Committee Side Event – Moving Forward on the Frontlines of the Climate Emergency

From 10-14 October 2022, UNHCR’s 73rd Executive Committee (ExCom) was held at UN Headquarters in Geneva. ExCom generated stimulating discussions on how UNHCR and partners should continue to address displacement in the context of disasters and climate change, bringing together intergovernmental organizations, NGOs and 107 Member States.

Highlights from the Side Event

Moderated by UNHCR’s Special Advisor on Climate Action to the High Commissioner, the event enabled ExCom members to hear from high level representatives of hosting countries and operations on how they are confronting recurrent climate shocks.

H.E. Mr. Cleopa Mailu, Ambassador for Kenya, shared how his country hosts over 550,000 refugees, including a significant number of Somalis who have fled the Horn of Africa’s worst drought in recent memory. He emphasized the importance of a human-centric approach to address protection concerns in the region, with a need to shift our planning from crisis engagement to adaptation and risk management”.

H.E. Mr. Zaman Mehdi, Deputy Ambassador for Pakistan, highlighted how 17% of Pakistan remains underwater, after unprecedented flooding left 10 million people displaced, emphasizing that:

“Climate change does not distinguish between refugees and hosting communities. The time is now for concrete action to address climate-induced displacement.”

Cover photo: © UNHCR / Natalie Schmidthaeussler

As Pakistan enters the daunting task of recovery and rehabilitation, the Ambassador stressed how crucial it will be to secure pledges for climate finance, development assistance, and support for disaster risk reduction.

Having assumed the Chair of the PDD, the EU DG-International Partnership’s Head of Migration and Displacement emphasized the need to act urgently with global partners to mobilize an array of instruments to address climate displacement. With mixed movements rising in its number and complexity, IOM’s Deputy DG for Operations echoed the need for complementarity in developing policies, programs and financing that will ensure climate displacement is well-addressed at the regional, national and local levels.

A powerful intervention was made by Ahmedou Ag Albohary, a refugee in Mauritania whose fire brigade won the 2022 Nansen Refugee Award for Africa. Ahmedou vividly described how climate-exacerbated wildfires have made life increasingly precarious for those his brigade protects around Mberra refugee camp. But by constructing fire breaks to stop bushfires and planting 24,000 trees to combat desertification, Ahmedou explained how a whole-of-society approach to addressing climate displacement can peaceful co-existence.

A Growing Consensus

As discussions from the side event diffused into ExCom’s plenary sessions, there was widespread endorsement of UNHCR’s strategic focus on climate action to protect and assist displaced people and their hosting communities.

With the 73rd ExCom now closed, UNHCR accordingly welcomes the continuation of its partnership with ExCom Members, PDD, IOM, and others active in the climate space to strengthen protection in the context of disasters and climate change.


Cover photo: © Alexander Bee

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Read UNHCR’s Strategic Framework for Climate Action


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