Displaced persons and refugees
Definition (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Humans have always migrated in response to climatic changes, and a rapid global climate change in the twenty-first century would be no exception. In some parts of the world, climate change may make the environment inhospitable or unsuitable for human habitation, leading to exodus of the affected populations.
People who migrate for climatic reasons are sometimes referred to as “climate refugees.” However, refugees, as defined by the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention, are those who flee their home country under justified fear of persecution due to their religion, ethnicity, nationality, or social or political affiliation. Migrants fleeing the effects of climate change do not usually fit this definition. Rather, they fall into the broader category of displaced persons, those who migrate internally or internationally to escape intolerable conditions such as civil strife, economic collapse, or land degradation. Such movement is termed “forced migration.”
Climate change can cause forced migration in several different ways. Perhaps the most obvious is sea-level rise, which can obliterate homes, communities, and entire countries. Climate-related natural disasters such as hurricanes and floods can also necessitate permanent migration. “Slow disasters,” such as drought, desertification, and glacier loss, may gradually render an area uninhabitable. Finally, violent conflict may arise from climate-induced resource scarcity....
(The entire section is 204 words.)
Significance for Climate Change (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
International law confers refugee status only upon those who cross international borders to flee violent persecution. Climate “refugees” who are internally displaced, and those who are escaping nonviolent conditions, currently have no formal recourse to international aid. However, many countries and organizations have begun to acknowledge the need for a concerted response to climate-induced migration.
An impending problem with no legal precedent is the disappearance of an entire country due to sea-level rise, leaving the citizens of that country stateless. With projected rates of sea-level rise, several island states will lose their entire territory within the twenty-first century. One such country is Tuvalu, from which citizens have already begun evacuating. Although other countries have no legal obligation to accept Tuvaluan migrants, New Zealand has formally invited them since 2001 (at the rate of 75 per year). Australia has declined to enter into a similar agreement. Tuvalu Overview, a Japanese NGO, has sought to call attention to Tuvalu’s plight—and that of other small island states—by documenting the life of each of Tuvalu’s ten thousand citizens in photos and stories.
Other climate-related causes of human migration—such as floods, droughts, storms, and land degradation—are even more ambiguous in their legal implications, since these events cannot be definitively attributed to...
(The entire section is 461 words.)
Further Reading (Encyclopedia of Global Warming)
Black, Richard. “Forced Migration and Environmental Change: The Evidence.” Chapter 2 in Refugees, Environment, and Development. New York: Addison Wesley Longman, 1998. Discusses the evidence for and controversies surrounding environmental causes of forced migration, including natural disasters, desertification, and sea-level rise.
Reuveny, Rafael. “Climate Change-Induced Migration and Violent Conflict.” Political Geography 26 (2007): 656-673. Reviews thirty-eight case studies of climate-related migration, concluding that climate and other environmental factors can catalyze violent conflict, especially in the developing world.
Salehyan, Idean. “From Climate Change to Conflict? No Consensus Yet.” Journal of Peace Research 45, no. 3 (May, 2008): 315-326. Urges pursuit of adaptation efforts to forestall potential conflicts and rejects the notion that climate change will inevitably cause political violence.
United Nations High Commission for Refugees. “Climate Change, Natural Disasters and Human Displacement: A UNHCR Perspective.” Geneva, Switzerland: Author, 2008. Outlines UNHCR’s role in tackling the problem of climate-induced displacement, asserting that “refugee” is often the wrong term for these displaced persons.
Unruh, Jon D., Maarten S. Krol, and Nurit Kliot, eds. Environmental Change and Its Implications for Population Migration. Dordrecht, the...
(The entire section is 198 words.)