United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
Information
  • Date submitted: 1 Nov 2011
  • Stakeholder type: United Nations & Other IGOs
  • Name: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)
  • Submission Document: Download
Keywords: Growth (3 hits),

Full Submission

UNHCR and Rio+20: Turning Vulnerability into Opportunity -- Environment, Equity and Empowerment


Submission by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development as basis for the preparation of the zero draft of the outcome document of Rio+20

(4-6 June 2012, Rio de Janeiro)



  1. Main entry points / Executive summary1



  • Sustainable development should focus on the Earth?s populations and resources. Poverty, conflict, social inequality and environmental degradation are at the root of refugee and Internally Displaced Person (IDP) situations.


  • Refugees and IDPs are among the world?s most impoverished and vulnerable populations and are often overlooked in national development policies and plans.


  • Environmental management, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction must be mainstreamed within humanitarian action.


  • UNHCR has important linkages to the three pillars of sustainable development (economic development, environmental protection and social development) and can contribute to it being more equitable and inclusive.


  • A UNHCR goal is to make sound environmental management an integral part of our humanitarian operations, to minimize the environmental impacts of displacement and to explore innovative approaches to environmental problems and hazards.


  • Refugees and IDPs should be seen as a resource, with capacities and talents that can contribute to sustainable development and the green economy throughmicro-enterprise development, entrepreneurship and micro-finance ? building self-reliance through sustainable livelihoods.




II. Introduction


  1. As UNHCR commemorates the 60th anniversary of the 1951 Refugee Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and the 50th anniversary of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, 43.7 million people worldwide are subject to forced displacement due to conflict and persecution. There is increasing evidence that environmental change is becoming an important driver of migration and displacement.


  1. If a green economy in the context of poverty eradication implies the simultaneous pursuit of economic, environmental and social equity goals, the needs of world?s most vulnerable populations and fragile states cannot be overlooked ? nor can their contribution. Refugees and IDPs can contribute to green economic Growth through productive, sustainable livelihoods and employment, both regular and informal.


3. Refugee and IDP operations have begun exploring innovative approaches to environmental problems and hazards including deforestation, disposal of toxic waste, chemical pollution, and impacts on, and adaptation to, extreme weather events such as floods and droughts.


4. Refugees and displaced persons do not only consume resources. They can actively contribute to the global (and local) economy, and potentially, to the green (and blue)2 economy.


III. Environment, equity and empowerment


5. The work of UNHCR is linked to the three pillars of sustainable development: social development, environmental protection and economic development. It draws upon the following strengths: protection of vulnerable populations and operational support for sustainable and self-reliant livelihoods with the goal of socio-economic integration or, in the event of repatriation, sustainable reintegration in home countries and communities. Development policies and plans, however, rarely take into account refugee and IDP communities, their concerns and capacities or their impacts on host communities.


6. The social dimension of sustainable development must include thecapacity to detect people in need of protection, including vulnerable groups such as unaccompanied children, stateless persons and persons requiring complementary forms of protection because, although they are not refugees, they cannot be returned to their countries of origin without risk.


7. The environmental dimension of sustainable development must encompass sound environmental management policies and programmes in refugee and IDP camps, surrounding areas and host communities. Refugee and IDP sites and settlements, including urban areas, provide a fertile ground for environmental innovation. Exploring the domestic energy needs of refugees, for example, has given rise to greater energy efficiency and investment in renewable energies such as solar-powered cooking and lighting in camps.


8. The economic dimension of sustainable development must recognize, on the path to a green economy, refugees and IDP activities as catalysts of economic Growth, contributing to local economy through informal networks and channels and stimulating entrepreneurship and sustainable livelihoods through education and skills training, access to technology and job creation. Sustainable development means harnessing the potential of the most disadvantaged and turning their vulnerabilities into opportunities and assets.


IV. Environmental management, green economy and innovation


  1. Environmental protection is critical to refugee operations at every stage. Competition over natural resources can lead to conflict within refugee communities and with the host communities, leading to violence, including sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV).


10. Environmental management in refugee camps and IDP operations can contribute positively to the host countries and communities and be a catalyst for innovation, e.g., through the use of alternative energy, such as solar power and ethanol for cooking and lighting to preserve scarce firewood; innovations in small-scale agriculture such as multi-story gardens, deep planting and micro-catchments to harvest rainwater in flood-prone regions; and reforestation to restore green space and avoid flood damage to crops.


11. Other important environmental activities include: environmental education in refugee schools and communities, environmental impact assessments and monitoring and evaluation in refugee operation. Environmental management can be mainstreamed through the entire life cycle of an operation, from site selection through camp management to camp closure, and should include the development of community environmental action plans that engage all stakeholders and commit them to improving their environment.


12. Reform of the global fleet management and support for a green supply chain will be imperative in the coming years. This includes the trajectory from procurement-transport-warehousing and distribution to waste management of both vehicles and generators worldwide.


13. While the use of alternative energies and environmental education and awareness-raising in some camps have been effective, a vast potential exists to expand these to embrace, e.g. a wider concept of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) within refugee schools and communities and to raise awareness of energy efficiency and sustainable consumption and behaviour. Public participation and access to environmental data and information, including, for example, on water quality, toxic wastes and health effects from indoor air pollution as well as programmes for waste management, recycling and pollution monitoring (air, water and soil) are other areas on UNHCR?s green and sustainable development agenda.


14. Creating an innovation architecture to support humanitarian work in urban and rural camps and settlement areas, moreover, could bring experience and expertise into refugee and IDP operations. Academics, engineers and other experts in areas such as water quality, sanitation, shelter and physical planning and climate change adaptation could design solutions to some of the most pressing problems refugees and IDPs face in their daily lives.


15. Refugees and IDPs should be seen as a vital resource, with a potential to contribute to the global (and local) green economy, by virtue of their talents and skills, education and entrepreneurship, labour and expertise. These skills and capacities in turn empower refugees and IDPs to become self-reliant and rebuild their lives.


V. Climate change adaptation, disaster risk reduction and displacement


16. UNHCR is concerned about climate change from both the protection and operational perspectives. The protection (legal/normative) angle involves the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the development of principles related to cross-border movements driven by climate change to which the 1951 Refugee Convention would not apply.


17. The 16th Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC in Cancun was a turning point. UNHCR?s advocacy and engagement with the Inter-Agency Standing Committee (IASC) laid the basis for recognition that migration, displacement and planned relocation are forms of adaptation to the impacts of climate change. The Cancun Adaptation Agreement made reference to migration, displacement and planned relocation in connection with climate change. The onus is now on the international and climate change communities to seek ways to implement the Agreement effectively.3


18. Another development spearheaded by UNHCR was the adoption of the Nansen Principles on Cross-border Displacement and Climate Change. Hosted by the Government of Norway and chaired by Margareta Wahlstrom, UN Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Disaster Risk Reduction, the Nansen Conference on Climate Change and Displacement in the 21st Century developed 10 Principles covering the vulnerability, resilience, and capacity for adaptation of communities in areas prone to disasters and environmental changes.


19. The operational perspective is addressed by mainstreaming climate change adaptation with disaster risk reduction, so that both are framed in the larger context of environmental management and sustainability of refugee operations. This is pursued througha?wider-area adaptation? approach, encompassing refugee operations and host communities (since natural disasters do not discriminate between refugee camps and the host country environment).


VI. A ?wider-area adaptation? approach to climate change


20. A ?wider area adaptation? approach to climate change implies an interface between the host country?s National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA), or similar national programmes or plans, and camp management activities governing technical and sectoral adaptation (e.g., climate-proofing measures in water, sanitation, shelter, health, agriculture, transport and communications).


21. An initial assessment of the capacity, awareness and potential of climate change adaptation measures in camp settings and at a national level in Tanzania and Kenya, for instance, showed a high level of awareness and knowledge on climate change impacts and emergency preparedness, disaster risk reduction and adaptation measures across sectors.


22. Comprehensive and reliable hydro-meteorological time series data on precipitation patterns and variability in temperature will be critical in the coming years in order to track anomalous rainfall and temperature rise and their impacts on refugee and IDP camps and host communities.


23. At Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya, a flood hazard assessment is underway to shed light on the impacts on refugee camps of the current cycle of drought and floods in the Horn of Africa. For example, atypical flooding in the camp in August 2011 impacted water and sanitation facilities, displaced some refugee populations and caused at least one death, due to the inability of emergency medical services to access the camp.


24. Targeted adaptation measures in water, sanitation and shelter have been identified and will be presented at an inter-agency side event at the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change Conference of Parties in Durban South Africa in December 2011 under the theme of ?Vulnerability, Changing Populations and Human Mobility?.


VII. Way forward and recommendations to the CSD at Rio+20


  1. Principle 1 of the Rio Declaration on Environment and Development adopted in 1992 confirmed that ?Human beings are at the centre of concerns for sustainable development. They are entitled to a healthy and productive life in harmony with nature.? Twenty years later, UNHCR joined the UN System Chief Executive Board (CEB) in issuing a common preamble statement to ?re-set the world on a sustainable development path?, noting in particular that:


Economic Growth must be of high quality and inclusive. It should occur hand in hand with relevant efforts to accelerate progress in global health, gender equity, improved access to and quality of social protection and the rule of law, and the fair distribution of the benefits of development. Policies must avoid trade protectionism and negative impacts especially on the poor and vulnerable groups such as refugees and internally displaced persons. These objectives are all key elements of the green economy approach, and we pledge the support of our organizations to Member States as they engage in this critical and transformational transition. 4


26 Against this backdrop, UNHCR puts forward the following recommendations to Rio+20 in support of the specific needs, and the potential for a contributing role in the global green economy, of the world?s 43.7 million refugees, displaced and stateless persons.


Recommendation 1: Governments and the international community should ensure that the future of sustainable development is inclusive, fair and equitable and that the path towards developing a green economy takes into consideration the needs of the poor and most vulnerable populations including refugees and internally displaced and stateless persons.


Recommendation 2: Governments and the donor community should recognize the contribution to economic activity, job creation and regular employment of refugees and displaced and stateless persons and ensure that an enabling legal and policy framework and funding are available to support their role in building a green economy through sustainable livelihood and environmental interventions including education, training, technology access and research and innovation on environmental problems and climate change adaptation.


Recommendation 3: Governments and the international community should support the integration and mainstreaming of environmental management, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction within humanitarian action, including refugee and IDP operations, to strengthen the resilience of the most vulnerable populations, their health and human rights, while protecting sensitive eco-systems and bio-diversity and minimizing the environmental impacts of humanitarian interventions.

1 This submission was prepared by UNHCR?s Division of Programme Management and Support with the support of the Division of International Protection on the basis of inputs received from field operations.

2 The blue economy refers to economic development founded on green (nature-inspired, environmentally-friendly and sustainable) innovations and technology.

3 Decision 1/CP.16 of the Conference of Parties to the UNFCCC on its sixteenth session, held in Cancun from 29 November to 10 December 2010 establishes the Cancun Agreements. Para.14 Invites all Parties to enhance action on adaptation under the Cancun Adaptation Framework, taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and respective capabilities, and specific national and regional development priorities, objectives and circumstances, by undertaking, inter alia, (f) Measures to enhance the understanding, coordination and cooperation with regard to climate change induced displacement, migration and planned relocation, where appropriate, at the national, regional and international levels (RCCC/CP/2010/7/Add.1).

4 Excerpted from the Common statement by the UN System Chief Executives Board for Coordination (CEB) on the Outcome of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (29 October 2011, CEB retreat, NYC).


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