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Climate Migration: Urgent Need for Legal Protections


Recently, the issue of climate migration has garnered significant attention, yet the world still lacks a comprehensive legal framework to protect individuals forced to flee their homes due to increasingly severe weather disasters.


GS III: Government policies and Interventions

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. About Climate Refugees
  2. Challenges Faced by Climate Migrants
  3. Steps Taken to Address Climate Migration

About Climate Refugees

Climate refugees are individuals or groups forced to leave their homes due to environmental changes caused by climate change. Here’s an overview:

Definition and Characteristics:

  • According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), climate migration involves people compelled to relocate due to sudden or gradual environmental shifts linked to climate change.
  • These migrations can be temporary or permanent and may occur within a country’s borders or across international boundaries.
  • Climate refugees typically lack viable alternatives and are compelled to leave their homes due to the adverse impacts of climate change, such as extreme weather events, sea-level rise, and environmental degradation.
Causes of Climate Migration:
  • Sudden-Onset Disasters: Events like floods, hurricanes, and earthquakes often trigger significant internal displacement, with affected populations seeking safer areas within their countries. However, returning home can be challenging due to damaged infrastructure and livelihoods.
  • Vulnerable Populations: Vulnerable communities, lacking resources and residing in high-risk areas, are disproportionately impacted by climate-related disasters and face heightened risks of displacement.
  • Slow-Onset Disasters: Environmental phenomena like droughts, desertification, and salinization gradually degrade land and water resources, making it difficult for people to sustain their livelihoods and prompting migration in search of better opportunities.
  • Rising Sea Levels: Coastal communities face threats from rising sea levels, leading to permanent displacement as homes and agricultural land become submerged.
Complexities and Challenges:
  • Mixed Drivers: Climate migration rarely stems from a single cause, often intertwined with factors like poverty, political instability, and inadequate social safety nets.
  • Data Gaps and Policy Challenges: Accurately quantifying climate migration poses challenges, hindering the development of effective policies to support displaced populations and enhance resilience in vulnerable communities.

Challenges Faced by Climate Migrants:

  • Loss of Skills and Assets: Climate migrants often lose their skills and assets due to displacement, making it challenging to find new jobs and rebuild livelihoods.
  • Informal Work and Exploitation: Climate migrants may end up in informal work sectors with low wages and poor conditions, increasing vulnerability to exploitation.
  • Access to Basic Services: Difficulty accessing healthcare, education, and housing in new locations can lead to social exclusion and marginalization.
  • Cultural and Language Barriers: Adapting to new cultures and languages poses challenges for climate migrants, hindering integration into new communities.
  • Legal Protections: Lack of a clear legal framework to protect climate migrants leaves them without refugee status under current international law, potentially leading to statelessness.

Steps Taken to Address Climate Migration:

  • Infrastructure Investments: Countries like Bangladesh invest in flood-resistant infrastructure to protect coastal communities.
  • Innovative Solutions: Island nations like Fiji explore raising landmasses to adapt to rising sea levels.
  • Planned Relocation: Kiribati considers planned relocation of populations at risk due to rising sea levels, focusing on land acquisition and cultural preservation.
  • Early Warning Systems: Implementation of early warning systems in countries like India and Vietnam allows for timely evacuation during extreme weather events.
  • Regional Cooperation: The Kampala Declaration on Protracted Displacement in Africa provides a model for regional cooperation on climate migration.
  • Agricultural Adaptation: Investment in drought-resistant crops and irrigation technologies in countries like Ethiopia helps farmers adapt to changing weather patterns and ensure food security.
  • Legal Frameworks and Bilateral Agreements: Initiatives like the Pacific Island Climate Mobility Framework and Tuvalu-Australia Pact offer legal pathways for climate migrants to move between countries and seek protection.

-Source: Down To Earth

May 2024