Workshop Image16 April 2012, New York, USA – More than 60 attendees representing entities from the United Nations, academic fields, non-governmental organizations, and the private sector participated in the “Seminar on Migration and Sustainable Development” held at UN Headquarters. The participants discussed economic constraints, demographics, political trends and environmental changes which influence migration and are likely to continue over the next century. The data calls for better planning and understanding of the convergence of these factors - sooner than later.

Although many believe that migration may provide fewer job opportunities for nationals in host countries, leading to cultural conflict, and affect badly urban planning, analyses of the impact of globalization indicate that migration provides a driving force for sustainable development. According to Ann Pawliczko, United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), there is a positive correlation between migration and sustainable development, which has often been underestimated or misunderstood. Michele Klein-Solomon of the International Organization of Migration, (IOM) provided further analysis on the contribution of migrants to sustainable development, claiming that “Global migration contributed to global gain of $356 billion difference in wages, decreased unemployment and enriched human capital”. In this regard, she identified migration as a tool to foster sustainable development at a global level in the light of the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development or Rio+ 20.

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The notion of sustainable development, however, is holistic. It requires looking at the environmental, economic and social aspects of development. Limiting migration to the movement of people, goods, capital or services may not capture very accurate measurements of the impact of migration both on host societies and on countries of origin. Also, climate change consequences will have detrimental effect on migration. “By 2050, some 200 million people may be forced to leave their homes due to environmental degradation and water shortages caused by climate change”, stated Cecilia Martinez de la Macorra, Director of the UN-Habitat/ New York Office.

Migrants will contribute to the development of communities and states as long as policies encourage their social and economic integration both in less developed countries and in most developed countries. In Africa for example, migration is intra-state, intra-regional and international. Mr. Patrick Hayford, Director of the United Nations Office of the Special Adviser for Africa, pointed out globalization encouraged the displacement of people in several ways: internally, externally, from less developed areas to most developed areas and also from most developed areas to less developed areas. It is necessary to understand its impact.

A comparative study presented by Michael B. Gerrard, Columbia Law School shows how the rise of sea level induced by climate change will accelerate the displacement of tens of millions of people in the next 50 years. The best case scenario is that in 50 years there will be 50 million displaced and the worst case is one billion – due to climate change. This will be particularly acute in urban areas which are mostly situated along coasts. The situation for urban areas is especially critical because they provide the economic, education and housing opportunities for almost 70% of the world’s population and are the destination point for many migrants. In reference to this point, Yvonne Lodico, Head of UNITAR New York Office, stated that in view of the effects of climate change, we are all potential migrants who will contribute to and search for sustainable development.

(Photos: Photo 1: UNITAR/Workshop participants; Photo 2: UN Photo/Kibae Park)