[PERN Cyberseminar] Legal Protection of Climate Refugees

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Wrathall, David J

May 19, 2021, 12:32:04 PM5/19/21
to Population-Environment Research Network (PERN) cyberseminars
Dear Colleagues,

Welcome to our final day of the PERN Cyberseminar on Refugees and the Environment.

Our final presenter is Victor Nyamori, a lawyer and legal scholar specializing in refugee law in the Horn of Africa. Please find Victor's presentation here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9aw6_caa4f8&t=5413s

Victor's remarks focus on the legal question of "climate refugees" in East Africa, a region with large concentrations of legally designated refugees (i.e. recognized by UNHCR), and a growing number of people displaced by climate related hazards, who are crossing international borders. 

We're so pleased to have Victor, an expert on refugee law, to reflect on the issue of "climate refugees," a perennial discussion in the PERN community. Historically, the "climate refugee" concept has been critiqued for confusing two key policy challenges: 1) climate-migrants as a category of "distress migration" that requires special humanitarian intervention; and 2) refugees as an exceptionally vulnerable population meriting internationally protected legal status. Practitioners, policy-makers, agency officials, and scholars have been sensitive to this composite concept. Ultimately, refugees are an extremely vulnerable population, and merit special legal privileges and protections. Forced migrants displaced by climate change may have limited agency about the timing, destination and duration of migration --or about whether to move at all--  but as of yet, they are not internationally protected as a special legal category.

As the Paris Agreement matures, as countries begin to take stock of emissions, and as the science of attribution moves further, we take this opportunity to revisit this topic, and pose a few questions to Victor, and to the PERN community:
  • What is the current state of international law on "climate refugees?"
  • Are we any closer to identifying climate-migrants, and designating protective legal categories for climate-migrants (for example, a special visa status)?
  • Will there be a parallel system of asylum for climate-migrants (mirroring the asylum process for refugees)?  
  • What legal solutions are different countries and regions proposing? 
I'm looking forward to an exciting discussion! 

Best regards to all,

David J. Wrathall PhD
Assistant Professor | College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences | Oregon State University
Lead Author | Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, WG II, Ch. 8 Poverty, Livelihoods and Sustainable Development
348a Strand Hall | Corvallis, Oregon 97331-5503
tel: +1 541 737 8051 | cell: +1 831 239 8521 | skype: davidjwrathall 

Get a sneak-preview of the framework for understanding migration and climate change in the IPCC's AR6 now in Climatic Change. Read about sea level rise and future migration in Nature Climate Change, and see our compelling prediction in Environmental Research Letters, that as the sea level rises in Bangladesh, migrants will actually move towards the coast! 

In Global Environmental Change read about the effects of narco-trafficking on conservation governance in Central America! In the same issue, we make the case that narco-trafficking causes deforestation.

Ilan Kelman

May 19, 2021, 1:45:54 PM5/19/21
to Population-Environment Research Network (PERN) cyberseminars

In terms of identifying and labelling the populations in question, we suggest:

1. Climate refugees and climate change refugees do not fall within UNHCR's definition of "refugee". Definitions can change while countries can make their own decisions, as New Zealand implied in 2017 https://www.cgdev.org/blog/new-zealands-climate-refugee-visas-lessons-rest-world - compare to the Pacific Access Category https://www.immigration.govt.nz/new-zealand-visas/apply-for-a-visa/about-visa/pacific-access-category-resident-visa

2. Climate change migrants are hard to identify and count https://doi.org/10.3390/socsci8050131

3. Climate migrants definitely exist, such as UK and Norway residents purchasing retirement homes along the Mediterranean and Canadians spending the winter in Florida. We usually call them "ex-pats" or "snowbirds", because apparently "migrant" might be pejorative. Not that we would ever label people differently according to their origin.

4. Determining forced migration in the context of climate change is not straightforward or necessarily consistent:

(a) https://doi.org/10.24043/isj.52 

(b) https://doi.org/10.24043/isj.120 

(c) https://doi.org/10.1002/2014EF000278 

5. Even if and when people are forced to move only or mainly due to climate change impacts (or failure to deal with the impacts), then the people might not wish to be labelled in such a way which they perceive denies them dignity or choice, hence "migration with dignity" from Kiribati and findings from Maldives:
Ultimately, we might ask who chooses to identify, label, and count--and who is served by these actions? https://doi.org/10.1111/geoj.12062 and https://doi.org/10.1002/jid.1676 Plus, there are many other words beyond "refugee" and "migrant", along with some difficulties in translating specific terms across languages.

Looking forward to learning from others on this topic,


From: Wrathall, David J <wrat...@oregonstate.edu>
Sent: May 19, 2021 17:31
To: Population-Environment Research Network (PERN) cyberseminars <pernse...@ciesin.columbia.edu>
Subject: [PERN Cyberseminar] Legal Protection of Climate Refugees
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