Climate Change: Activities of Selected Agencies to Address Potential Impact on Global Migration
Climate change may increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, which could drive people around the world from their homes.
We found that, while the State Department, USAID, and DOD haven’t focused on the link between climate change and migration, State identified migration as a risk in one of its climate change risk assessments in early 2017.
However, State later changed its approach and no longer provides clear guidance to its staff on how to assess climate change risks. This may prevent it from identifying and addressing climate change as a factor in human migration.
We recommended State provide its staff with this guidance.
Bangladesh is expected to experience migration due to climate change
Woman sitting in flooded house in Bangladesh.
What GAO Found
From fiscal years 2014 through 2018, a variety of executive branch actions related to climate change—such as executive orders and strategies—affected the Department of State (State), the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of Defense (DOD), including their activities that could potentially address the nexus of climate change and migration. For example, a fiscal year 2016 presidential memorandum—rescinded in 2017—required agencies to develop implementation plans to identify the potential impact of climate change on human mobility, among other things. In general, however, climate change as a driver of migration was not a focus of the executive branch actions. For example, a fiscal year 2014 executive order—also rescinded in 2017—requiring agencies to prepare for the impacts of climate change did not highlight migration as a particular concern.
State, USAID, and DOD have discussed the potential effects of climate change on migration in agency plans and risk assessments. For example, State and USAID required climate change risk assessments when developing country and regional strategies, and a few of the strategies reviewed by GAO identified the nexus of climate change and migration as a risk. However, State changed its approach in 2017, no longer providing missions with guidance on whether and how to include climate change risks in their integrated country strategies. In doing so, State did not include in its 2018 guidance to the missions any information on how to include climate change risks, should the missions choose to do so. Without clear guidance, State may miss opportunities to identify and address issues related to climate change as a potential driver of migration.
The three agencies have been involved in climate change related activities but none were specifically focused on the nexus with global migration. For example, USAID officials said that the agency's adaptation efforts, such as its Pastoralist Areas Resilience Improvement through Market Expansion project in Ethiopia, were the most likely to include activities, such as enhancing resilience, that can indirectly address the issue of climate change as a driver of migration.
A U.S. Agency for International Development Project in Ethiopia Includes Activities to Enhance Resilience That Can Indirectly Address Climate Change as a Driver of Migration
Why GAO Did This Study
The effects of climate change, combined with other factors, may alter human migration trends across the globe, according to the International Organization for Migration. For example, climate change can increase the frequency and intensity of natural disasters, causing populations to move from an area. Climate change can also intensify slow-onset disasters, such as drought, crop failure, or sea level rise, potentially altering longer-term migration trends.
GAO was asked to review how U.S. agencies address climate change as a potential driver of global migration. For State, USAID, and DOD, this report (1) describes executive branch actions related to climate change and migration from fiscal years 2014 through 2018; (2) examines the extent to which the agencies discussed the potential effects of climate change on migration in their plans and risk assessments; and (3) describes agency activities on the issue. GAO analyzed documents on administration priorities; reviewed agency plans, risk assessments, and documentation of agency activities; and interviewed agency officials.
GAO recommends that State provide missions with guidance that clearly documents its process for climate change risk assessments for country strategies. In commenting on a draft of this report, State indicated that it would update its integrated country strategy guidance and will specifically note that missions have the option to provide additional information on climate resilience and related topics.
Recommendations for Executive Action
|Department of State||The Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources provides missions with guidance that clearly documents the department's process for climate change risk assessments for integrated country strategies. (Recommendation 1)||
In January 2019, GAO reported that the Department of State (State) required climate change risk assessments for all new integrated country strategies drafted in 2016 or later and that all of the strategies we reviewed included such assessments. Furthermore, State identified migration as a risk of climate change in at least one country strategy's climate risk assessment. However, State issued new guidance to its missions in 2018 that did not include information on the process for assessing climate change-related risks to agency strategies or the agency's climate risk screening tool that can be used to conduct such assessments. Because the agency no longer mentioned a climate change risk assessment or provided information about the tool to conduct such assessments, State lacked clear guidance on its process for assessing climate change-related risks to its integrated country strategies. Executive Order 13677 directed State to incorporate climate-resilience considerations into decision making by assessing climate-related risks to agency strategies, among other things. Subsequently, a State cable from September 2016 further explained that State would implement the executive order's requirement by screening for climate risks as part of the process for drafting all new integrated country strategies. Additionally, the Standards for Internal Control in the Federal Government state that documentation is a necessary part of an effective internal control system. GAO recommended that the Secretary of State should ensure that the Director of the Office of U.S. Foreign Assistance Resources provide missions with guidance that clearly documents the department's process for climate change risk assessments for integrated country strategies. State did not oppose the recommendation in the GAO report and has taken steps to implement it. In response to GAO's recommendation, in November 2019, State updated its integrated country strategy guidance to inform missions that they have the option to include an annex on climate risk. In August 2020, State communicated to missions the option for an annex on climate risk in their integrated country strategies. By clarifying its guidance on how to assess the risk of climate change, State will help ensure that missions know that they can examine the potential risks of climate change on its foreign assistance activities and thus increase the likelihood that the agency may have the information it needs to identify migration as a risk of climate change.