In 2016, extreme weather and climatic hazards resulted in the displacement of 23.5 million people (Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF), 2017). More specifically, we can already see that in Bangladesh, thousands of people have moved to Dhaka, the capital, to escape rising sea-levels. The rising tides are exacerbated by increasingly severe monsoons, and collectively, these changes are displacing between 50,000-200,000 of the Bangladeshi population each year (EJF, 2017). Moreover, Munir Muniruzzaman, chair of the Global Military Advisory Council on Climate Change, has stated that, “a one-metre sea level rise in the south of the country will entail a 17-20% loss of territory to the sea, meaning that Bangladesh will lose up to 20% of its current landmass” (Vidal, 2018). This will only increase the internally displaced population within Bangladesh, consequently increasing the population density of Dhaka’s already extensive slum, and likely force many more to migrate across borders.
Yet currently, international law does not require states to provide asylum to communities displaced from environmental degradation and climate change (Black, 2001). This is in spite of the fact that, according to senior US military and security experts,
Tens of millions of people could be forced to leave their homes over the next decade due to climate change
Climate change is expected to, and in some cases has already resulted in, increased droughts, floods, heat-waves, storms, and rising sea levels. Cumulatively, these impacts threaten clean drinking water supplies, agriculture production, and the destruction of infrastructure that maintains our current ways of life. Moreover, the inundation of homes in low-lying regions will result in huge numbers of people migrating both within and across borders.
The potential for internal and international climate-induced migration will continue to rise if nothing is done to curb global warming and factor migration into development planning. By 2050, an internal population shift could involve more than 140 million people in sub-Saharan Africa, south Asia and Latin America (Thompson, 2018). One study even suggests that the number of migrants attempting to settle in Europe each year will triple by the end of the century based on current climate trends, independent of other political and economic factors. Even if efforts to limit or reduce the impacts of climate change are successful, the number of applications for asylum could still increase by a quarter (Missirian & Schlenker, 2017).
Politically, economically and socially, migration of all varieties has been especially contentious over the past twenty years. Refugee admissions are arguably even more so. While we cannot ignore the possible tensions that may arise from increased inward migration in the long term, it is fundamental that we recognise the injustice that has meant that it is often the nations who hold least responsibility for exacerbating climate change have to bear most of the burden of dealing with its impacts. After all, it is these climatically vulnerable populations who will suffer the most if and when their homes and livelihoods are inundated and destroyed by rising sea levels. It is consequently our responsibility to help however and wherever we can.
Although progress has undoubtedly been made in tackling climate change through various initiatives, including the Paris Agreement, there is still a long way to go. Not least of all by implementing international legislation that comprehensively protects climatically vulnerable populations. However, we need to first understand why this is not as simple an issue as it sounds.
A (Geneva) ‘Convention refugee’ does not have to identify the type of persecution they face, but ‘merely’ prove that an act or threat of persecution has, or is likely to, occur, thus verifying that their human rights are in danger (Dun and Gemenne, 2008). Conversely, environmental migration discourse typically involves identifying the severity and imminence of the threat of inundation. Although all people are, at least in principle, protected by their country of origin’s government, a failure to protect them could be portrayed as violating each individual’s human right to life. If we consider such a violation to represent persecution, this could theoretically validate the current definition of a ‘Convention refugee’ claim, although exercising this is unlikely in the long term.
Nevertheless, the most developed countries have exacerbated sea-level rise and wholesale climate change by conducting mass exploitation of resources, heavy pollution of non-degradable materials, consumption of fossil fuels, and destruction of natural environments. These industrialising and exploitative states have therefore infringed upon the territorial borders and livelihoods of low-lying states, limiting the security of these communities, and in effect, inflicted increasing persecution on climatically vulnerable populations.
Developed states therefore have a moral obligation to offer restitution in whatever way maximises the prospects for these communities, including facilitating environmentally induced migration. Particularly for the purposes of the low-lying Pacific island states, international migration may be the most efficient way to increase human resilience (Black et al, 2011).
The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) defines ‘environmentally induced migrants’ as “persons or groups of persons who, for compelling reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad” (IOM, 2007: 1-2). This definition, through its broad interpretability, offers agency to populations at risk; encompasses the necessity to assist and protect those who leave their homes both out of necessity and voluntarily, while recognising that this migration is not necessarily always across international borders; and identifies that environmentally induced migration can occur due to short-term or long-term changes. The IOM elaborates, “In presenting this definition, the intent is not to ignore other intervening political, economic and social factors, but rather to focus policy on a key driver of human mobility that has all too often been overlooked, while also offering an alternative definition to “environmental refugees”, a term that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has stressed has no legal grounding in international refugee law” (IOM, 2007: 2).
Bierman and Boas (2008) call for protecting ‘climate refugees’ by planning for forced and voluntary resettlement over long-term periods; treating them as permanent residents; and maintaining the need for a multilateral system to ensure no state can avoid their moral duties. Although their use of ‘climate refugees’ is established through a morally protective lens, their criteria fall short of establishing territorial rights for climate refugees, reducing their self-determination and exacerbating the risk of losing national and cultural identities. While they validly point out that those who require resettlement for reasons of environmental inundation should not receive less protection than others who fear political persecution, an extension of the Geneva Convention’s definition of refugee is unlikely due to the already notable unwillingness of states to admit Convention refugees. Moreover, the prospect of return to a state that has been overwhelmed by sea-level rise is less foreseeable than to one that has seen political persecution. The use of ‘environmentally induced migrants’ therefore affords this population socio-economic and political agency with the permanent rights such status should encompass.
Climate justice and morality
Nobody chooses where they are born. It is sheer accident of birth that an individual is born in a particular place or nation-state. So why is it that when it comes to protecting those who suffer from hardships abroad, our efforts often pale in comparison to domestic injustices or crises?
The difference between morality and justice is one of exercising theory and practice. “No philosopher who restricts the scope of obligations of justice to members of the same nation-state believes that there are no moral obligations that extend beyond borders”, yet “these obligations are not as strong and deep as obligations of justice” (Young, 2011: 136). The difficulty therefore lies in traversing that boundary, in enacting measures to protect climatically vulnerable populations across the world. Miller’s (1995) worrying conception that obligations of justice only apply within state borders legitimises a ‘business-as-usual’ approach from the greatest contributors to climate change induced sea-level rise, reinforcing the idea that problems abroad stay abroad. This should be rejected, as any particularistic labelling or relationship among a population is irrelevant in assessing and subsequently fulfilling moral obligations (Young, 2011: 137). Outside states may argue that they should not be held accountable for upholding environmentally induced migrants’ rights because a sovereign state has a duty to protect its own citizens.
However, a commitment to the protection of the human right to life is an irrevocable requirement, and involves the protection of all people, whether they lie within a state’s borders or not. Indeed, “insofar as those distant from us are particularly vulnerable to our actions… we have special obligations to care for them” (Clement, 1996: 73). If justice transcends borders, then “we also have a right and an obligation to criticize the others with whom we share responsibility” (Young, 2011: 144). Logically, outsiders therefore have a responsibility to protect vulnerable populations when persecuted by their own governments, or when their governments are unable to protect them from events that may hinder their ability to enjoy their human rights.
Some arguments that suggest the use of ‘climate refugees’ should be avoided raise valid concerns. For example, McAdam, 2017 validly raises the concern that there are no refugee-style protections for causes such as poverty. However, the criticism that “climate refugee” overemphasises the monocausality of migration undermines the potential for protective relocation to be granted, and as such, for the basic human right to life to be upheld. Moreover, this stance undermines the severity of the climate change crisis, delegitimising any proactive adaptation techniques undertaken to protect vulnerable populations, including environmentally induced migration, regardless of whether they are part of a state’s national community. Reactive relocation programmes due to environmental destruction in the past have often been inadequately implemented and temporary, so climate change relocation should be a long-term process, with an understanding that such migration is likely to be permanent.
Furthermore, one could also understand the idea that climate change may be an overlayer of some other variables – including conflict, poverty, and human rights abuses – that force people into migrating. The straw that breaks the camel’s back, even. Indeed, the Syrian crisis was partly triggered by a severe drought. However, to suggest that climate change and environmental damages do not cause movement alone is dangerous. Again, this threatens to reduce the potential for outside assistance by delegitimising a valid claim for protection or sanctuary. While the existing refugee system protects those who face (the threat of) persecution, including conflict and human rights abuses, which should inherently grant civilians who are affected with salvation and sanctuary regardless, the idea that because climate change and its dangers invalidate a claim for protection, whether alone or in combination with other factors, leaves a sour taste in one’s mouth. Unfortunately, in an age where migration is a frequently politicised topic, it seems to be a sign of strength for some to reject those in dire need of help.
The world’s poorest countries account for 1% of the world’s emissions
They also experience 99% of the world’s deaths from weather events. Yet the International Monetary Fund (IMF, 2017) states that migration is largely limited to those who can afford to travel; and that people in low-income developing countries are generally trapped amid weather disasters triggered by climate change. Consequently, we can observe the economic injustices that limit the most vulnerable people in where they migrate to, if they manage to migrate at all. “Given the constraints faced by low-income countries, the international community must play a key role in supporting these countries’ efforts to cope with climate change—a global threat to which they have contributed little,” says the IMF. If wealthier countries are to justly and effectively contribute to mitigation and adaptation costs throughout the world, there needs to be multilateral agreement that legitimises this threat of a great climate migration, and that does not reduce these fears to ‘just another issue’.
Of course, we all want to see an end to poverty and systemic injustices. But citing monocausality as a reason for not protecting climatically vulnerable populations is immoral, unjust, and plainly continues to ignore this international issue that threatens millions of people across the world.
Put simply, the choice is do something or nothing.
Mitigation and adaptation
Typically, mitigation measures involve reducing the direct impacts of sea-level rise, while the responsibility tends to lie with agents outside the affected population. Conversely, adaptation reverses this, with the responsibility often lying with the affected community, as the population is forced to adapt to their changing environment (Smith and McNamara, 2015). Pacific island states generally emit low levels of greenhouse gases. Therefore, we can attribute increasing responsibility for sea-level rise, and the moral obligation to afford restitution to affected populations, to the highest emitters of greenhouse gases, which lead to climate change (Campbell, 2014; Barnett and Campbell, 2010). A meeting of the United Nations Framework – Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 2009 in Copenhagen failed to agree to proactively tackle greenhouse gas emissions, effectively accepting the inundation of vulnerable states, while no progress was made on an adaptive framework for accepting climate refugees either (Bedford and Bedford, 2010:89). This lack of wholesale international cooperation demonstrated an intrinsic ignoring of the plight of low-lying states, and an absence of moral will in failing to offer refuge to their vulnerable populations.
Although the more recent Paris Climate Agreement has symbolised an international ‘step-up’ in both mitigation and adaptation efforts to tackle the crisis, again, there appears to be a lack of foresight in the prospect of major international migration due to drastic climatic changes. While almost comprehensive agreement that enhanced efforts should be made to lower greenhouse gas emissions is, without doubt, the appropriate attitude to be taken, a failure to merely acknowledge the likely mass movement of people in low-lying states is a worrying lack of foresight. Perhaps it could be argued that states may act less urgently to mitigate the direct impacts of climate change if a climate refugee or environmentally-induced migration system existed as a fall-back option, under which vulnerable populations would (theoretically) be protected. Indeed, its very existence could still result in a continuation of industrial development, despite such a system representing a justified humanitarian obligation for the higher emitting states to compensate and protect those who have suffered, or will suffer, from environmental degradation.
Within a mitigation-adaptation framework, a climate refugee system does not counteract the direct impacts of sea-level rise, and cannot be classed as mitigation. Instead, the responsibility to adapt is disproportionately left to the vulnerable populations. It is therefore necessary to alter the responsibility dynamic, whereby states who bear most responsibility for climate change provide mitigating strategies to states that are severely threatened by environmental degradation. Nonetheless, we must accept the inevitability of environmentally- or climatically-induced migration, and emplace protective provisions that will preserve the rights of all people who are forced into moving within and across borders due to displacement. Regardless of whether this comes in the form of a new provision to the UN Refugee Convention, or a new international migration framework, we cannot ignore the ongoing plight of vulnerable populations.
13% of urban residents across the globe live less than ten metres above sea level
meaning that they are at increased risk of experiencing coastal flooding and submergence (Stapleton et al, 2017). Especially in less developed countries and small island states, where rural to urban migration is commonplace, the challenge is to ensure that such migration does not escalate vulnerability of these populations. If successfully managed, taking a risk-informed approach can “provide an opportunity to ensure that migration, displacement and planned relocation are fully addressed, as both potential challenges and potential opportunities for change”, therefore making sure that migration remains a choice wherever possible, rather than a necessity (Warner et al., 2015: 8).
As it stands, international ignoring of the risks of climate change and consequential migration has already enabled extraordinary crises.
In 2008, President Tong of Kiribati stated that he did not want the Kiribatian population to leave their country under the ‘refugee’ label, with the term conveying an undesirable stigma that manifests inherent vulnerability, and that they require protection from elsewhere. Instead President Tong advocated training for the population become skilled migrants, which empowers the individuals involved, and in turn represents an applicable use of ‘environmentally induced migrants’ (ABC, 2008).
Inevitably, self-determination would be hindered to some extent under a refugee status, whereas developing one’s skillset to become self-sufficient and successful economically would demonstrate an enhanced ability to exercise one’s autonomy. Moreover, Kiribatian climate activist Maria Tiimon (2010) rejects a climate refugee ‘solution’ as too simplistic, claiming that any system must involve the incorporation of equity and human rights, in addition to facilitating a maintenance of cultural identity. As “the earth literally changes beneath their feet, it is vital to understand the cognitive reverberations and cultural implications to a people’s sense of homeland and place” (Crate and Nuttall, 2009: 13). Such acknowledgement would encourage the movement of these people to lands in which their cultures and socio-economic practices could be replicated.
Moreover, instead of idealising a future climate refugee system, the relocation strategy within the Kiribatian Adaptation Project focuses on increasing socio-economic provisions for its population to facilitate their ability to find employment abroad. The Project simultaneously encourages Kiribatians to establish extensive expatriate communities that could improve long-term integration when environmentally induced migration is at a critical stage. In 2014 President Tong also purchased 20 square kilometres of land on Vanua Levu, one of the Fijian islands, to guarantee the population’s food security (Caramel, 2014). This attempt to protect Kiribatians’ rights represents the retention of self-determination across international borders, and limits the necessity for international intervention. Fiji is even investing $50,000 to develop a legal framework to help climatically vulnerable populations to relocate, according to the nation’s Attorney General, Aiyaz Sayed-Khaiyum (Shankleman, 2017). Although Fiji’s apparent willingness to take responsibility to protect those most at risk from coastal inundation should theoretically challenge the most developed and industrialised states to follow suit, no progress has been made in developing international protocols that directly assist those who are likely to migrate.
The Tuvaluan government, meanwhile, mobilises an identity of a vulnerable population, and therefore demonstrates a strategy encouraging the progression of international agreements to protect the populations likely to migrate, while maintaining the paramount importance of retaining political, cultural, and territorial rights (Farbotko and Lazrus, 2012). The TeKaniva document, which outlines Tuvalu’s current climate change policy describes its seventh and final goal as “Guaranteeing the security of the people of Tuvalu from the impacts of climate change and the maintenance of national sovereignty” (Government of Tuvalu, 2012). This appears to acknowledge that mass migration, although unfavourable, is a possibility. Essentially, a balance must be found between maximising the self-determination of the population, and recognising the need for multilateral assistance. This should involve comparatively safe states protecting Tuvaluans within their own borders, unless the borders of a host state are themselves altered to facilitate New Tuvaluan sovereignty, as is the implied hope in Strategy 7.2 of TeKaniva, to “Ensure that Tuvalu continues to have the capacity to remain as a nation”. The title of ‘environmentally induced migrants’ is therefore justified. Moreover, if we accept the displaced population’s territorial rights and self-determination in their country of origin, morally we should entitle the displaced to exercise their agency by setting some conditions attached to their new residency, for example, land type.
Theoretically, recipient states of environmentally induced migrants from Tuvalu and Kiribati, such as Australia and New Zealand, would prefer to continue assisting their populations where they are, rather than integrate them within their own borders (Smith and McNamara, 2015). This is in spite of the fact that these populations have an inherent territorial right to exercise their own sovereignty, wherever they situate. However, there remains a lack of international progress in advocating the acceptance of environmentally induced migrants as a moral responsibility. To the islanders, adaptation in the form of crossing a border falls short of mitigating sea-level rise, and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. Such international inaction will exacerbate the challenges faced by climatically vulnerable states, especially regarding the preservation of cultural and national identity, sovereignty, and providing fair compensation (Yamamoto and Esteban, 2010; Oels, 2010; Smith and McNamara, 2015; Morteaux and Barnett, 2009). In this sense, the greatest challenge to climatically displaced populations will be retaining self-determination, whether they are classed as ‘climate refugees’, which would involve the protection of the displaced within another territory, or ‘environmentally induced migrants’, where sovereignty may be difficult to obtain and exercise within the borders of another state.
Although we may consider the Syrian crisis as solely related to security and war, one thing that is rarely brought up is the precursor to the civil unrest: drought. The mass migration that we have become accustomed to over the last 7 years did not begin as an international movement, but was internal rural-to-urban migration. The increasingly sparse rainfall and changeable weather patterns, in addition to poor governmental planning, led to the migration of Syrian farmers to the major cities, as they could no longer cope with increasingly severe rural poverty (Kerr-Wilson and Coker). Mass migration to any urban areas puts higher demand and competition on resources, especially in insecure and less developed regions, and threatens to escalate conflicts within communities, in addition to the potential anti-government sentiment.
Between 2006 and 2009, approximately,
1.3 million people living in Eastern Syria were affected by agricultural failures
Consequently, around 800,000 people lost their livelihoods and basic food support (Sohl, 2010). This period of time had already resulted in the reduction of wheat and barley yields by 47% and 67%, as well as the mass reduction of livestock populations, before the 2011 drought exacerbated the situation (ACSAD, 2011). “More than 1.5 million people – mostly agricultural workers and family farmers – moved from
rural land to cities and camps on the outskirts of Syria’s major cities of Aleppo, Damascus, Dara’a, Deir ez-Zour, Hama, and Homs” (Gleick, 2013: 334). Alongside poverty and food insecurity increasing, poor water management, policy and planning decisions escalated tensions between the Assad regime and the public, culminating in the tragic situation that we see today.
The complexity of Syria’s situation would make it naive to solely blame environmental stresses and climate change for Syria’s desolation. But we must still recognise that environmental challenges were a factor in the build-up to the country’s mass destruction. Syria’s host of political, religious, and social ideological disputes; economic dislocations from both global and regional factors; and worsening environmental conditions, make it a truly unique combination of crises. Nonetheless, conflicts arising from partly environmental factors are not a new phenomenon, nor shall they be in the future if the management of resources follows similar destructive paths. While a migration system that facilitates migration to individuals threatened by climate insecurity is necessary, mitigating mechanisms such as improvements in water-use efﬁciency and productivity in agriculture, better management and monitoring of groundwater resources, and comprehensive international agreements on managing and sharing the rivers that cross political borders would better protect countries from falling into escalating turmoil.
A Global Protocol
It seems naturally progressive to develop a global protocol that legitimises ‘environmentally-induced migration’, thus enabling proactive protection, rather than limited reaction to potentially disastrous events.
A just system should allocate environmentally induced migrants to states according to the size of their population, or based on their contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. This system encapsulates a form of restitution and justice for those who suffer most from sea-level rise, offered by the states that are most accountable for climate change’s impacts. Such a system should facilitate the forcibly induced migration of those considered most vulnerable, while not limiting the ability of others to voluntarily migrate. Irrespective of whether the migrant moves voluntarily or not, the principle of non-refoulement should be inherent, as any ‘Convention refugee’ would not be returned to their country where the threat of persecution remains. Similarly, it would prove near impossible for an environmentally induced migrant to return to a location that had been inundated by sea-level rise, while forcible return to such a state would be an unjustifiable derogation of human rights.
Gemenne (2015) reasons that the term ‘climate refugee’ recognises that environmental migrations are necessary to counter the persecution that comparatively climate-secure states have inflicted on climatically vulnerable communities. Morally, ‘climate refugees’ should consequently be treated as permanent migrants, and afforded the same rights as citizens, as these migrants would not be able to access such rights in their own land, as there would be no governable land on which to exercise autonomy. However, with current ‘Convention refugees’ seemingly lacking comprehensive rights compared with citizens in countries across the globe, or indeed other migrants generally, it seems advisable that those who have to cross borders due to climatic vulnerability avoid the ‘refugee’ title. Added to this, refugees typically do not enjoy the ability to exercise the same levels of self-determination outside of their country of origin.
A ‘soft law’ system could be a more successful approach to protect environmentally induced migrants, reflecting the Guiding Principles (GPs) for Internally Displaced Populations (IDPs), which are now widely recognised as a basis for several states to develop domestic laws to protect this type of population (Kälin, 2010). The GPs are based on ‘sovereignty as responsibility’, recognising the right of states to retain sovereignty, but also encouraging international assistance. Up to now, climate changes have mostly resulted in internal migration, the future is still likely to heavily involve environmentally-induced cross-border migration.
Nonetheless, a soft law framework, if applied to environmentally induced migrants, could lead to increasingly adopted norms based on moral guidance, so they may become progressively self-enforcing. They could eventually acquire a customary legal value that would bind states to affording various socio-economic and political rights to the displaced populations, in the interest of their stay becoming permanent.
However, while this strategy theoretically integrates the upholding of rights in new territories, it does not solve the challenge of exercising sovereignty within recipient territories, which will be a key pull factor for environmentally induced migrants. We can also question whether a soft law approach will foster greater moral will in protecting them, as states remain free to apply or disregard it.
Furthermore, the loss of existing territory due to ecological change does not eliminate the right of self-determination. If a population is (or recently was) self-determining, but their claim to autonomy is existentially threatened by ecological change, the people become a candidate for exercising the same sovereignty within a new territory (Nine, 2010). Clearly, the sacrifice of an existing state’s territory to incorporate a new population, and offering them the ability to exercise their own socio-political and economic self-determination, is easier in moral theory than in practice. Undeniably, “states with territorial rights over viable lands have an obligation to allow reasonable access to their territory to the ecological refugee states”, and when such states are greatly responsible for contributing to sea-level rise, providing displaced communities with new territory would be proportionate justice (Nine, 2010: 366). Therefore, environmentally displaced communities should reserve the right to exercise self-determination and governing autonomy in a new territory. However, the obvious difficulties lie in recipient states deciding which land is available and accessible, and agreeing that the displaced population’s status as a candidate for sovereignty gives rise to territorial rights. The dichotomy between exercising sovereignty within newly crafted borders, and integrating into a community that offers rights to those that migrate to new states, is a profoundly difficult one to unpick.
While territorial rights legitimise the offering of land by states who are primarily responsible for sea-level rise, to peoples who have lost their ability to exercise sovereignty, practically, perhaps this is not the most strategically viable option. Fundamentally, environmentally induced migrants should have a say in where they migrate to, based on self-determined socio-economic criteria. Recipient states have a subsequent moral obligation to accept and protect these migrants upon their arrival. However, it may be beneficial to link these migrants to areas experiencing demographic deficits and labour shortages, enabling development on a potentially grander scale (Black et al, 2011). Not only could the implementation of a successful system protect those in danger, but it could also provide opportunities to the individuals affected, and benefit the recipient nations.
What can we do to help?
It is important to note, in what may seem slightly contradictory given the main content of this research, that increasing mitigating measures must be implemented continuously to maximise human resilience to climate change must be prioritised. However, a planned system that assists vulnerable populations to migrate away from climatic and environmental threats must also be put in place. The danger is that the upholding of such a migration system might reduce some states’ willpower in tackling climate change head-on due to the presence of a fallback option. This cannot be allowed to happen. Collaborative mitigation and adaptation measures are essential if successful planning is to be undertaken on an international scale.
At We Make Change, we want to see an end to all vulnerability. And below, I provide some organisations that provide both mitigation and adaptation strategies that you can follow and support.
There are many organisations that work in adapting to our climatically changing world, and are fighting to uphold the rights of millions of people who are in danger from being displaced due to climate change and consequential sea-level rise. Although this article highlights the difficulties in identifying climatically vulnerable populations as ‘refugees’ or ‘migrants’, the priority has to always be to simply do something.
The Environmental Justice Foundation is effectively calling on the international community, and the EU in particular, to develop new recognition of climate refugees and a legally binding agreement to ensure their greater protection and rights. In fact, EJF have manufactured their own definition of climate refugees: “persons or groups of persons who, for reasons of sudden or progressive climate-related change in the environment that adversely affects their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad”. The difficulty, then, comes with encouraging supranational and domestic governments to agree to accepting and protecting these people in their own sovereign nations.
You can show your support for this campaign, and the consistent implementation of the Paris Agreement, by signing their petition, and donating any spare pennies you have to their cause. Additionally, by sharing their video, ‘Beyond Borders’, you will be raising awareness of the challenges that climatically vulnerable populations face, and therefore persuade the international community to stand up for these peoples’ rights.
‘Climate Refugees’ is an organisation formed in 2015, that conducts detailed field reports that identify climate change as a driver of displacement, and provide a human lens on climate change, documenting human rights conditions side-by-side with political, social, economic, and conflict risk analysis. They also identify cases, trends, gaps and policy recommendations, which they leverage to meet with relevant international organisations – including national governments and the UN, media and corporations to advance changes in policy and practice that promote an international legal framework of protection for ‘climate refugees.’
With this organisations, you can volunteer your time to research and write about climate displacement patterns and events. Research is constantly required for the world to observe the real-time impacts that climate change has, and sharing this material will only serve to help us, from governments to local communities, to tackling, mitigating, and adapting to the changes to our environment.
The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice has a vision to “put justice and equity at the heart of responses to climate change, particularly those concerned with how best to respond and adapt to the challenge that it poses for the poorest and most vulnerable peoples of the world”. The organisation brings together stakeholders from varying backgrounds in order to provide thought leadership in the fields of international climate change, sustainable development and human rights policy, and therefore enabling top-down policy development to have an environmentally and a socially conscious basis.
The Green Climate Fund, set up in 2010 by the 194 countries who are parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), and aims to “deliver equal amounts of funding to mitigation and adaptation, while being guided by the Convention’s principles and provisions.” The Fund pays particular attention to developing countries who are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change, as well as focusing on small island states and poverty stricken African countries. In short, the Fund aims to facilitate a “flow of climate finance to invest in low-emission and climate-resilient development, driving a paradigm shift in the global response to climate change”. The Fund’s investments can be in the form of grants, loans, equity or guarantees.
Assisting a host of both adaptation and mitigation projects, this is an organisation that is well worth supporting in the long term, as success in these projects will mean long term benefits for developing countries economically and environmentally.
Global Justice Now also places an emphasis on climate justice, and focuses on bottom-up solutions to the challenges of corporate-controlled energy resources. More broadly, this organisation also focuses on tackling the repression of the world’s poorest people, who would therefore typically not be able to migrate in order to improve their lives. In their own words: “We must fight for the rights of all people to cross borders whether it be fleeing wars, escaping poverty or simply be closer to loved ones or taking up an employment opportunity.” Although they do not specifically cite the challenges of environmentally-induced migration, it is promising that they focus on multiple issues, thus representing both mitigation and adaptation strategies for a more just world.
Needless to say, there are many more organisations out there that are doing positive work for climate justice, protecting vulnerable populations, and fighting to reduce human-caused climate change. By keeping up to date with these organisations’ events and actions, you will be able to send your individual support in whatever ways you can. By sharing their progress, we will be able to make effective progress in advancing the rights and protections enjoyed by those most vulnerable to this ever-changing world.
Undoubtedly, mitigating climate change by directly tackling our fossil fuel consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, and other forms of environmental degradation, are crucial in our attempts to reverse the world’s increasingly dangerous state. However, it is time to acknowledge that the tipping point has already been exceeded, and it is now inevitable that environmentally-induced migration will be occurring in huge numbers, both within and between states’ borders. Consequently, we must now take collective steps to not only mitigate our direct impacts on our environment, but to consistently protect climatically vulnerable populations, by providing them with the rights and restitution that should be inherent in any conception of climate justice.
Predictions regarding the internal and international migration of people due to climatic and environmental factors is especially difficult due to the uncertain variables involved. Nonetheless, the production of detailed and comprehensive plans for the protection of this people, alongside increasing renewable energy usage and greener living, needs to begin now. Invariably, mass movement will happen due to the environmental damage and degradation that has already been inflicted, but if planning for a climate-migration system is successfully implemented now, this could save countless lives.
It is up to all of us to take responsibility, and this means keeping up to date with news from around the world. Only by doing this will we learn and develop the most effective ways to protect all life on Earth.
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