You are here: Home Knowledge Base Society Preparing for Environmental Migration
Symposium 2010

Preparing for Environmental Migration

The Challenge

Over the coming decades, tens of millions will  ace serious degradation of their natural  environments and find their livelihoods  threatened. Migration—both within countries and across national borders—is one way in which individuals will respond. At the same time, environmental  hange and migration are both multi-faceted.

One-dimensional estimates of the future number of environmental migrants (such as “a one meter rise in the sea level will lead to x million environmental migrants”) fail to do justice to this complexity. The most widely cited estimate puts the number of people likely to be affected at 200 million by 2050, though this figure is highly contested. If the figure proves robust, it would be similar to the current total of international labor migrants and more than five times the number of refugees and internally displaced persons accounted for by the United Nations High Commission on Refugees.

Environmental migration is a complex phenomenon. Only rarely will the impact of environmental degradation be as obvious as a farmer’s land being submerged by a rising sea level. More typically, local, regional and international factors, such as population growth, soil degradation, hanging temperatures and extreme weather events, will combine to threaten livelihoods.

The response is predictable. In many instances, whole households will leave affected areas. More frequently, individual family members will seek work elsewhere, giving the household an additional source of income.

Environmental degradation that affects people‘s livelihoods is a global problem that calls for multiple local solutions. Although there is a lack of evidence and consensus on the nature of the relationship between environmental change and migration, and despite the expectation that most resulting population movements will take place within national  orders, it seems likely that considerable numbers of people will also cross international borders either directly or indirectly as a result of the effects of environmental change.

Most of those who cross international borders as a result of environmental change will fall outside existing legal and normative protection frameworks. They will not be covered by the soft law framework of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, yet neither will they satisfy the criteria for refugee status defined in the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which does not recognize environmental factors as a cause of displacement.

Some countries have established special policies that permit individuals whose countries have experienced natural disasters to remain at least temporarily without fear of deportation (such as Temporary Protected Status in the US and the Temporary Protection Directive in the EU). Sweden and Finland are rare examples of states that have included “environmental migrants” within their immigration policies. A number of other countries provide exceptions to removal on an ad hoc basis.

But at this time, there are no examples of legislation or policies that address the migration of people from slow-onset climate change that may destroy habitats or livelihoods in the long term, for example, desertification or rising sea levels. Equally, there are no international legal instruments that specifically address international migration stemming from climate change or other environmental factors. Proposals to address this gap range from a new international convention (or amending the 1951 Convention) to developing “guiding principles” to inform national laws and policies.

Just as international legal frameworks for addressing climate changeinducted cross-border movements are weak, so are the institutional roles and responsibilities at both the international and national levels. With the exception of the refugee regime, there is no existing international regime for managing international movements of people, although a plethora of international organizations have some responsibilities related to international migration.

What can be done to help people to cope with the consequences of climate change and environmental degradation? Is it necessary to establish an international regime for environmental migration? And if people need to move, how should they be protected?

    Solutions

    Solution
    Symposium 2010

    Create early warning systems to alert affected countries of impending serious environmental degradation.

    Create early warning systems to alert affected countries of impending serious environmental degradation.

    Create early warning systems to alert affected countries of impending serious environmental degradation.

    Polity, Academia, Civil Society
    Solution
    Symposium 2010

    Revise aid budgets to enable early adaptation.

    Revise aid budgets to enable early adaptation.

    Revise aid budgets to enable early adaptation.

    Polity
    Solution
    Symposium 2010

    Use ad hoc cooperation among potential host country governments to provide safety for people from places that become uninhabitable.

    Use ad hoc cooperation among potential host country governments to provide safety for people from places that become uninhabitable.

    Use ad hoc cooperation among potential host country governments to provide safety for people from places that become uninhabitable.

    Polity, Civil Society
    Solution
    Symposium 2010

    Adopt national rules to recognize environmental refugees and provide for their protection.

    Adopt national rules to recognize environmental refugees and provide for their protection.

    Adopt national rules to recognize environmental refugees and provide for their protection.

    Polity, Academia, Business, Civil Society

    Proposals

    Proposal
    Symposium 2010

    Preparing for Environmental Migration

    It is urgently necessary that international and national regulations and agreements should recognize the phenomenon of environmental migration and are adapted to accommodate it. International legal no ...

    It is urgently necessary that international and national regulations and agreements should recognize the phenomenon of environmental migration and are adapted to accommodate it. International legal norms provide too little protection for environmental migrants, partly due to the absence of any recognition of this new migration phenomenon. The Geneva Refugee Convention and its additional protocols only consider some environmental migrants under certain circumstances and therefore do not offer any comprehensive protection. In the future, a new convention should decide, what status and consequently what legal status the affected people are to be granted. The countries from which environmental migrants originate

    Polity, Civil Society
    Proposal
    Symposium 2010

    Preparing for Environmental Migration

    The extent of environmental migration will depend on how successful global and national policies to mitigate environmental degradation will be and whether individuals, households, and communities in a ...

    The extent of environmental migration will depend on how successful global and national policies to mitigate environmental degradation will be and whether individuals, households, and communities in affected areas can adapt their economic activities to changing environmental conditions. Therefore, new global rules for environmental migration should be combined with adequate incentives for mitigation and adaptation. Solutions will likely be based on the following considerations, among others: A large proportion of the global environmental degradation will occur in developing countries with severely limited resources for mitigation, adaptation, and resettlement of migrants within their borders. International donor support will therefore be

    Polity, Academia, Business, Civil Society
    Proposal
    Symposium 2010

    Emerging global governance arrangements

    Although there is a lack of evidence and consensus on the nature of the relationship between environmental change and migration, and despite the expectation that most resulting population movements wi ...

    Although there is a lack of evidence and consensus on the nature of the relationship between environmental change and migration, and despite the expectation that most resulting population movements will take place within national borders, it seems likely that considerable numbers of people will also cross international borders either directly or indirectly as a result of the effects of environmental change. A proportion of them will fall outside existing legal and normative frameworks. Because they have crossed borders they will not be covered by the soft law framework of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement; yet neither will they satisfy

    Polity, Civil Society