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A comment on climate change, conflict and forced migration


Academic year: 2023

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But most of the forced migration and conflict related to climate change is likely to remain internal and regional. According to a report published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center of the Norwegian Refugee Council (IDMC),.

The myriad of factors in forced migration

In order to better examine the validity of the assumption of forcing and causality between climate change and migration, it is necessary to take a closer look at the factors that influence why people migrate. Migration can depend both on the personal characteristics of the affected individuals and on various other external conditions.

Key impacts of climate change

Due to the multi-causality of migration, calculating the population at risk from climate change impacts is a long way from predicting mass flight. In the following, some of the expected impacts of climate change are considered, comparing them where possible with past experiences.

Climate changing migration

Importantly, the impact of climate change depends not only on natural exposure, but also on the vulnerability and resilience of the areas and people, including capacity to adapt. The most extreme climate change scenarios are based on climate change tipping points or thresholds that could have devastating consequences such as the accelerated melting of the Greenland ice sheet with an accompanying rise in sea level and weakening of the Gulf Stream.

Number of people reported affected by natural disasters 1975–2006

Therefore, they have little mobility and the majority return as soon as possible to rebuild their homes in the disaster areas.27 The effects of climate change are likely to impoverish and possibly limit their mobility even further. Economic water scarcity (human, institutional and financial capital limits access to water, even though water is naturally available locally to meet human needs).

Areas of physical and economic water scarcity

Of these, 438 million live in Asia, and 246 million live in the world's poorest countries. In April 2007, UK Foreign Secretary Margaret Beckett addressed climate change and security in the UN Security Council for the first time, comparing the situation to the looming threat of war before 1939, arguing that "an unstable climate threatens some of the drivers of conflict, such as migratory pressures and competition for resources—they're getting worse.” That same month, some senior retired U.S. generals published a report arguing that climate change poses a serious threat to U.S. security because of its impact on extremism and terrorism in unstable regions.31 Since then, there has been a mass production of studies , who argued that climate change may prove to be the greatest threat to national and international security.32 The framing of climate change in a conflict discourse naturally reached its peak in October 2007, when Al Gore and the IPCC received the Nobel Peace Prize. The Tuareg rebellion in Mali in the early 1990s is also mentioned as an example of a conflict related to climate change.

Many of the drought-stricken nomads sought refuge in the cities or left the country. More recently, prominent officials such as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon have argued that "the Darfur conflict began as an ecological crisis, resulting at least in part from climate change ("A Climate Culprit in Darfur," in The Washington Post Much of the forced migration associated with climate change is likely to be internal, regional and short-term or temporary.

Climate change may also lead to a further increase in rural-to-urban migration due to land degradation and people seeking better earnings.


In one way or another, all countries will eventually be affected by climate change, but some are more direct and particularly vulnerable and vulnerable. As already mentioned, the impacts of climate change depend not only on exposure to the physical impacts of climate change, but also critically on vulnerability/resilience and adaptability. The location of the hazards/disasters is not expected to change much in the foreseeable future, but the severity and frequency are likely to increase.

The IPCC has "high confidence" that "Africa is one of the most vulnerable continents to climate change and climate variability, a situation exacerbated by the interaction of 'multiple stresses', occurring at different levels, and low adaptive capacity."45 The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) also recognizes SIDS and Africa as particularly vulnerable, adding the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) to this list. Whenever there is a disaster, it is likely to be the largest in terms of the number of persons affected in countries with high populations such as India and China. While the developed countries bear the main responsibility for climate change, one can question whether the dynamics of climate change, conflict and forced migration can and should be portrayed as a threat image of masses of refugees flooding across western borders.

Given that the effects of climate change depend on exposure as well as vulnerability/resilience, it is likely that developing countries at lower latitudes will continue to be hotspots in several senses of the word in the near future.

Security risks associated with climate change: Selected hotspots

After examining the form and scale of forced migration likely to occur as a result of the impacts of climate change, this second part of the report explores how migrants can be categorized in relation to issues of protection and assistance. When studying the concept of environmental or climate refugees and evaluating protection gaps, we can draw on some basic concepts and categories of migration. To varying degrees, different categories of migrants have their position regulated and protected by law.47 So-called economic migrants do not have a very strong position in international law.48 This migration is often closely related to socio-economic conditions.

Marxist criticism emphasizes the element of violence in such migration, claiming that it goes unrecognized due to the liberal political nature of international law. Some authors believe that there is no significant difference between economic migrants and those who migrate due to environmental change. A majority of people in need of protection and assistance do not qualify as refugees.

There are regional instruments with somewhat broader definitions of refugees, but none explicitly assign refugee status for environmental or climate change reasons.

International law and protection

After reviewing the criteria of the 1951 Convention, a majority of authors conclude that persons whose displacement is related to environmental change do not meet the requirements to be defined as "refugees". Other serious human rights violations – for the same reasons – would also include persecution.”52 Because there is no fixed definition, there is room for evolution of the concept. The prosecution and its connection with the treaty grounds must be considered in the light of the availability of state protection.

Such interpretations are not impossible, but they run counter to the liberal political view that persecution requires ill-will and an intentional act (and not merely an omission) on the part of the state or a non-state party. Several difficult questions arise about the rights of the affected population and who would be responsible for protecting them, and there could be a serious gap in the protection of statelessness legislation. The exact scope and interpretation of the mandatory standard can be disputed, but it is clear that non-refoulement protection can be relevant in situations of forced migration related to climate change.

Most migrants will differ from the refugees for an important reason stated in the 1951 Convention: they are not.

Internally Displaced People Worldwide 2007

Hopefully, climate change will increase the focus on the plight of people trapped in their own countries, as well as forced migration more generally in developing countries. The impact of human-induced climate change can have serious consequences for conflict and forced migration. The Stern Review on The Economics of Climate Change concluded that solutions to climate change are affordable.

Developed countries bear the main responsibility for current climate change and have the financial and technological resources to deal with it. The impacts of climate change will significantly increase the need for local, national and international humanitarian responses. Rich countries are already investing heavily in climate change adaptation at home.

From environmental conflict research and migration and refugee studies, it is clear that addressing factors of conflict and forced migration can help prevent the worst impacts of climate change. Adaptation is to a large extent a question of resources, information and infrastructure, but the role of the state and institutions and other political and socio-economic factors are decisive in preventing climate change impacts, conflict and displacement. The climate change and environmental factor is one of several main causes of conflict and forced migration.

Main conclusions and recommendations

1 The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is divided into three working group reports: the first on the physical science basis (IPCC 2007a), the second on impacts, adaptation and vulnerability' (IPCC 2007b) and the third on mitigation ( IPCC 2007c). Myers, N (2002) "Environmental refugees: a growing phenomenon of the 21st century", Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London Series B-Biological Sciences. 20 Castles, S (2002), "Environmental change and forced migration: making sense of the debate", UNHCR Working Paper No.

47 The IOM International Migration Law Database: http://www.imldb.iom.int/. 48 The 1990 Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers is a step to improve the situation of the economic migrants who are migrant workers. 54 Gemenne, F (2007) "Climate Change and Forced Displacements: Towards a Global Environmental Responsibility?" Paper presented at the 47th annual convention of the International Studies Association (ISA), San Diego (CA), 22-25 March 2006. 48 The 1990 Convention on the Protection of the Rights of Migrant Workers is a step to improve the situation of the economic migrants who are migrant workers.

69 Castles, S (2002), “Environmental change and forced migration: making sense of the debate”, UNHCR Working Paper no.


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