Refugees International Launches Task Force on Climate Change and Migration


Refugees International announced today the launch of an expert task force on climate change and migration in response to an Executive Order (EO) issued by President Biden on February 4. 


The executive order, which focused in large measure on the U.S. refugee admissions program, also directs the National Security Advisor to report to the president by August 3 on “Planning for the Impact of Climate Change on Migration,” including options for the protection and resettlement of people at risk of displacement due to climate change.


“The order presents a historic opportunity to advance U.S. policy on these critical issues,” said Eric Schwartz, president of Refugees International and co-chair of the task force. “While climate change is increasingly recognized as a driver of forced migration around the world, governments, international organizations, and civil society have yet to develop comprehensive measures that effectively target at-risk communities that may want to stay and adapt, ensure that those on the move do so safely and with dignity, and enable those that need to cross borders to obtain adequate protection.”


The Task Force will seek to develop recommendations that encourage the Biden administration to seize this opportunity and articulate a responsible plan of action designed to meet these challenges. 


“It’s time for the United States to exercise leadership on an issue that communities around the world are already grappling with,” said Elizabeth Ferris, a research professor at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University and co-chair of the task force. “In order to make the administration’s report as impactful as possible, it will need to include in-depth guidance on complex issues, including on terminology and type and extent of protection. We intend to harness the expertise of this Task Force to support the Biden administration’s endeavor to find solutions to climate-related displacement.”   

Task force members include:

Nisha Agarwal
Deputy Executive Director, International Refugee Assistance Project (IRAP)

T. Alexander Aleinikoff
Director, Zolberg Institute on Migration and Mobility, The New School
Former UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees
Former General Counsel, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), Department of Justice

J. Brian Atwood
Visiting Scholar Watson Institute, Brown University
Former Administrator, U.S. Agency for International Development
Former Under Secretary of State

Reuben Brigety
Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of the South
Former U.S. Representative to the African Union 
Permanent U.S. Representative to the United Nations Economic Commission of Africa

Elizabeth Ferris
Research Professor, Institute for the Study of International Migration, Georgetown University
Expert Advisory Group Member, United Nations Secretary General’s High-Level Panel on Internal Displacement

Lauren Herzer Risi
Director, Environmental Change and Security Program, Wilson Center

Mark Hetfield
President and CEO, HIAS (founded as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society)

Rev. Mary Katherine Morn
President and CEO, Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

Kayly Ober
Senior Advocate and Program Manager, Climate Displacement Program, Refugees International

Maria Otero 
Former Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy and Human Rights
Former Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs
Former President and CEO, ACCION International

Anne C. Richard
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration
Former Director, Secretary of State’s Office of Resources, Plans and Policy

Alex de Sherbinin
Senior Research Scientist and Associate Director for Science Applications, Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN), The Earth Institute, Columbia University
Deputy Manager, NASA Socioeconomic Data and Applications Center (SEDAC) 

Eric P. Schwartz
President, Refugees International
Former Assistant Secretary of State for Population, Refugees, and Migration

Maureen White
Senior Fellow, Foreign Policy Institute, Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS), Johns Hopkins University
Former Senior Advisor on Humanitarian Issues, Office of the Special Representation to Afghanistan and Pakistan