Diasporas and cities – a powerful duo in advancing global climate action

What do cities and diasporas have in common? 

They are front runners in adopting innovative solutions to climate change – although rarely they are considered together.  

London Climate Action Week 2023, provided the perfect opportunity to have a closer look at how these actors contribute to advancing global climate ambitions and can join forces to enhance innovation and social inclusion in the process. Through the online event ‘Diaspora for climate action: Bridging local actors & global aspirations’ IOM UK brought together city representatives, academia, climate & migration experts and diaspora and youth representatives to discuss the role of diasporas as bridges between cities and their role in enabling the exchange of ideas and best practices, crucial to accelerating progress towards global climate ambitions. 

The discussion brought a fresh perspective on the relationship between migration and climate change. 

At a time when the narrative around climate change and migration focuses all too often on the risks of increasing numbers of people having to move from their homes because of more frequent and intense climate-induced disasters – the role that migrants and diasporas can play in supporting climate change mitigation and adaptation in their communities of origin or residence can easily go unnoticed.  

As Marta Foresti, Founder and CEO of LAGO, and Visiting Senior Fellow at ODI , put it when talking about cities and diaspora in relation to climate change and migration we really are focusing on the solutions, the practicality and the ‘what can be done’. 

Diasporas1 thanks to their ties with countries or communities of origin/heritage have a high stake in seeing such communities prosper; despite the little attention received in this space - there is much that diasporas can and are already contributing. 

Discussions around diaspora contributions have tended to focus on financial remittances – whose value is estimated at over $800 billion for 2022, overtaking the value of both ODA and FDI combined; however, from the diaspora’s perspective, knowledge, skills and networks are key.  ‘Diasporas believe most contributions are around intellectual capital’, highlighted Soumyadeep Banerjee, Regional Migration, Environment, and Climate Change Specialist at IOM. IOM has well-established institutional expertise and experience on the migration-climate change nexus, as well as working with diasporas more specifically. With its global footprint, the Organization has been able to witness and support diaspora contributions in many development and humanitarian contexts, whether in the form of knowledge transfers, investments, philanthropy, awareness-raising or partnerships and peer learning.  

For example, through the ongoing Diaspora 4 Climate Action project, IOM aims to create opportunities for dialogue and collaboration between the diaspora in the UK, governments, and other key stakeholders in Bangladesh, Ghana, Jamaica and Albania.  

Indira Kartallozi, Founder of Sustainability Leadership Kosova, argued that the diaspora is also key to empower local leadership. She highlighted three practical ways in which SLK is doing just that; firstly by educating the private sector and younger generations about the importance of decarbonisation and innovate using waste; secondly, by helping larger clients in polluting sectors to understand trends and changes in regulations and certification; thirdly by raising awareness, providing training and working with local actors, including partnering with the Mayor of Pristina to pilot innovative solutions to forestation. 

Cities from their part are having to adapt quickly to a changing climate and find equitable solutions for an ever-growing urban population. 

Cities, particularly those with large migrant populations, can do a lot to mobilise their residents, including migrant and diaspora members, to find and implement solutions to climate change. The event explored the role of cities as hubs of innovation which are well placed to promote inclusive approaches to climate action and highlight examples of how cities can empower and leverage the knowledge, expertise, and connections within their diverse communities. 

In the UK, 12 cities are trying to square climate agenda with migrant integration, with support from Inclusive Cities, an initiative based at Oxford University. Denis Kierans, who has been leading much of the work under this project, highlighted that both topics require strong cross-departmental work, long-term thinking, and a focus on communities which goes beyond immigration status. Good practices are few and far between but could be easily replicated. Glasgow, for example, set up climate cafes, bringing different groups of citizens together to discuss what they can do on climate change, concrete initiatives and longer-term advocacy. Similarly, Bristol’s black and green ambassador programme, is bringing people from minority backgrounds together and offering trainings, networks and resources to become community leaders with focus on climate change.  

The city of Accra, in Ghana – is still in the ‘exploratory stage’ of including diasporas in its climate activities, however, as Deputy Director for Waste Management, Victor Kotey pointed out, the city intends to achieve its climate targets by ‘embarking on aggressive stakeholder engagement’ based on inclusivity, participation and ownership.  

This engagement has been put into practice in the waste management sector, which is one of the city’s key priority sectors and sources of emissions. Local authorities in Accra are trying to reduce the sector’s carbon footprint by engaging migrant communities - who have traditionally found employment in informal waste collection – and giving them training and job opportunities in the city’s formal waste management sector. This has contributed to improved livelihood opportunities and access to public services for migrants, while providing better waste collection services to the whole population and reducing emissions by closing down polluting illegal dump sites.  

As Marta Foresti pointed out ‘This project allows a series of integrated initiatives at the local level - where the issue of migration is far less to do with the identity of people being migrants and their legal status and much more with their role as urban dwellers, with particular needs and skills.’ Involving migrant and diaspora communities in cities’ transition to greener futures, will therefore benefit the whole of society.  

In ensuring the diversity of voices, cities will need to be particularly careful to include youth perspectives. Diaspora youth, and youth more broadly, are ‘passionate and want to act’ highlighted Shofa Miah from Westminster youth council. Similarly, Thara Johnson-Reid, a member of the Global Jamaica Diaspora Youth Council, emphasised the importance of promoting the interaction between diaspora youth around the world and highlighted initiatives by diaspora focusing around youth engagement in Jamaica. 

The event ended with a question which allowed speakers to reflect on measures which could immediately advance climate action.  

Imagine we lived in an ideal world and you could make a decision to advance CA with immediate effect. What would you do to maximise the potential of cities, local communities and diasporas working together? What would be your first action? 

Establish long-term funding mechanisms to allow local governments to act locally on climate action 

Challenge the short termism of governments, adopt systemic approaches to solutions and encourage younger generations to become good ancestors 

Adjust laws and regulations to facilitate diaspora contributions to climate action 

Introduce indicators measuring positive outcomes for the planet into financial markets 

Leveraging diaspora advocacy and activism to push for more investments in climate initiatives in countries of heritage and cities of residence 



For more information please contact Martina Castiglioni,