Should International Refugee Law Accommodate Climate Change?

Standing where homes were washed away by the sea, Kiribati. Captions and Photo source: © Oxfam Australia


Can the United Nations help to protect people seeking safety abroad if their homes and jobs are destroyed by prolonged drought, rising sea levels or other climate change-related phenomena in the same way as if they were displaced by war or human rights abuses? The short answer, today anyway, is no. (!)

The more considered – and thus far, thorny – response challenges the legal notion of what it is to be a refugee, and raises questions about how much political will there is to even begin a global discussion on an issue that UN experts say was unimaginable a few decades ago.

“The truth is there is no one agency in the system because no one could have imagined this situation 60 years ago,” Mr. Riera told the UN News Centre. “But there are massive protection challenges raised by climate and environment-related migration, displacement and planned relocation.”

“The important word in the United Nations is ‘nations’. The UN in itself is nothing more than an international cooperation forum. It’s the nations that can get together and do something,” said Mr. Crépeau. “States can use the vessel to do something, but the vessel in itself can do nothing if the States are opposed to it. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon is constantly urging the States to do something on a number of issues. Sometimes they do it, sometimes they don’t.”

Read Full Article, United Nations

New Zealand Judge Rejects Climate Refugee Plea, ABC News (11-29-2013)

Court Rules Against Village In Global Warming Case, AP (09-21-2012)

50 million environmental refugees by 2020, experts say, Phys Org (02-21-2011)
Fifty million environmental refugees will flood into the global north by 2020, fleeing sparked by climate change, experts warned at a major science conference that ended Monday. “In 2020, the UN has projected that we will have 50 million environmental refugees,” University of California, Los Angeles professor Cristina Tirado said at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS).

A Fresh Start For Climate Change Refugees? IRIN
The solutions on migration and climate change being proposed go beyond reinforcing planning mechanisms for countries facing natural disasters; they look also at the migration of affected populations to new countries, including relocation in the industrialised world and the employment possibilities that might be available…

Climate-Induced Migration Creates Perils, Possibilities, IRIN

If an island state vanishes, is it still a nation? (12-26-2010)

Kiribati President Purchases Resettlement Land as Precaution Against Rising Sea

Ban Ki-moon: World’s economic model is ‘environmental suicide,’ AP (01-28-2011)
The world’s current economic model is an environmental “global suicide pact” that will result in disaster if it isn’t reformed, U.N. chief Ban Ki-moon warned Friday, at the annual meeting of business and political leaders in Davos Switzerland. Ban said that political and business leaders need to embrace economic innovation in order to save the planet.
“We need a revolution,” the secretary-general of the U.N. told a panel at the World Economic Forum on how best to make the global economy sustainable. “Climate change is also showing us that the old model is more than obsolete…”