The Plight of Environmental Refugees

Last October, I wrote a blog entitled “Escaping Environmental Change” to shed some light on the plight of environmental refugees or climate migrants.

This week, we are launching a video I created on the SISGI Group’s YouTube channel to further raise awareness on the cause and start a discussion on possible solutions.

We invite you to view this 5 minute clip below and then add your comments at the bottom of this page.

To begin the dialogue, here are two questions to think about:

  • Part of the problem is that climate migrants are not recognized as traditional refugees because they are not escaping persecution. Do you think an argument can be made that they are refugees because they are being forced to leave their homes?
  • Should governments focus on addressing how climate is affecting their countries, which will then benefit the population in these environmentally torn areas; or should they address poverty within their borders, which will help people move to areas not affected by climate change?

Feel free to introduce additional thoughts or questions.  Your feedback is greatly appreciated!


1 comment

    • Jennifer Doherty on 15 April, 2012 at 7:05 am
    • Reply

    Hello, This is such an excellent article,

    So if an island nation is submerged beneath the ocean, does it maintain its membership in the United Nations? Who is responsible for the citizens? Do they travel on its passport? Who claims and enforces offshore mineral and fishing rights in waters around a submerged nation? International law currently has no answers to such questions.

    United Nations Ambassador Phillip Muller of the Marshall Islands said there is no sense of urgency to find not only those answers, but also to address the causes of climate change, which many believe to be responsible for rising ocean levels.

    “Even if we reach a legal agreement sometime soon, which I don’t think we will, the major players are not in the process,” Muller said.

    Those players, the participants said, include industrial nations such as the United States and China that emit the most carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases. Many climate scientists say those gases are responsible for global warming. Mary-Elena Carr of Columbia University’s Earth Institute said what is now an annual sea level rise of a few millimeters will increase dramatically by the year 2100. “The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory,” said Bogumil Terminski from Geneva. International legal experts are discovering climate change law, and the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is a case in point: The Polynesian archipelago is doomed to disappear beneath the ocean. Now lawyers are asking what sort of rights citizens have when their homeland no longer exists.
    t present, however, there appear to be at least three possibilities that could advance the international debate about ‘climate refugee’ protections and fill existing gaps in international law.

    The first option is to revise the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees to include climate (or environmental) refugees and to offer legal protections similar to those for refugees fleeing political persecution. A second, more ambitious option is to negotiate a completely new convention, one that would try to guarantee specific rights and protections to climate or environmental ‘refugees`.

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