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Immigration Law

Tackling Climate Change Displacement at COP27

Camila Bustos, Jeffrey Chase, Just Security, November 14, 2022

"As severe weather patterns intensify, climate change will continue to displace communities across the globe. The World Bank estimates that there could be more than 143 million people internally displaced by slow-onset disasters in Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia by 2050. Populations with the least capacity to respond and adapt to a changing climate are more likely to suffer from the worst impacts.

States have a responsibility to ensure that individuals displaced because of climate change impacts are treated with respect and dignity. Yet international law does not recognize climate displacement as a subject warranting special protection or status. The 1951 Refugee Convention only recognizes persecution on account of five protected grounds (nationality, race and ethnicity, political opinion, religion, or particular social group), leaving those fleeing environmental disasters under circumstances not attributable to those specified reasons without protection.

Despite the urgent need for action, governments have been slow in creating pathways to protect climate-displaced people. If anything, increasing militarized approaches to migration flows and national security rhetoric has permeated mainstream discourse on climate migration. Discussions about “economic migrants” and which groups are deserving of international protection distract from real solutions that can provide relief and uplift the dignity of individuals displaced by climate. Also concerning is the fact that authoritarian governments have leveraged the ongoing United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP27) to either greenwash their image or exclude environmental advocates from accessing the climate talks.

Although climate migration is not on its official agenda, COP27 offers an opportunity for international climate negotiators and advocates to tackle the issue in three ways: (1) promote changes in domestic legal frameworks that will protect internally displaced populations; (2) raise awareness of how existing legal protections under asylum frameworks intersect with climate change; and (3) guarantee climate finance pledges are met by mobilizing funds dedicated to adaptation and mitigation. ..."