While governments work towards creating global solutions to climate change, one cannot forget that problems attributed to climate change are also global in nature. An emerging problem associated with climate change is the advent of the so-called ‘climate change refugee’ – a person displaced from one’s country of origin owing to the devastation of one’s livelihood and/or security caused by forces related to climate change.
A growth in dislocated persons is problematic in and of itself. To date, approximately 42 million persons have been forced to leave their homes in search of shelter and safety. This not only pushes these refugees themselves into dire conditions of extreme poverty, but hinders economic development in the least developed countries of the world, which host 86% of the world’s refugee population (according to the UNHCR).
What makes the so-called climate change refugee such a growing concern is that international humanitarian law does not recognize persons displaced due to climate change. Article 1 of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines a ‘refugee’ as one forced to leave due to varying forms of persecution. Persons displaced due to climate change are not characteristic of this definition.
Chapter 4 of this Convention assures that persons granted refugee status will be given food rations, housing, elementary education, and other examples of social security provision. At present, any person forced to leave their home because of climate change is not guaranteed such provisions. What is more, this migration is not considered legal.
With global initiatives for mitigating and adapting to climate chance progressing, the advent of the “climate change refugee” needs careful consideration. Ideally, climate change solutions will emerge before more persons are displaced. But given the rapid deterioration of resources, heightening droughts, and emerging famines, the international community must consider amends so that displaced persons are afforded provisions necessary.