Environment and Ecology

Environmental Migration: Do We Even Care?

Environmental Migration | Recently, various studies have pointed out that disasters due to climate change have been displacing more people than conflicts. According to Global Report on Internal Displacement (GRID, 2019), in 2018, of the total new 28 million internally displaced people in 148 countries, 61% were due to disasters. In comparison, 39% were due to conflict and violence.

As per the estimates, climate change resulted in the displacement of 2.7 million Indians in 2019.

What are Environmental Refugees?

Environmental Refugee is a specific term which covers only cross-border migrants forced to do so due to environmental factors. However, it has not been defined till date. In addition to that Cross-border displacement who have migrated due to climate change is not recognized under the protocols of UN Refugee Convention (1951), which grants certain rights to people fleeing persecution because of race, religion, nationality, affiliation to a particular social group, or political opinion.

Environmental Migration FACTS

  • Every year since 2008, floods, storms, earthquakes and droughts have forced an average of 26.4 million people worldwide to evacuate, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC). In 2019, 1.6 million people displaced by the disaster were still in camps and places outside their homes.
  • At 2.7 million people, India had the highest number of people displaced by disasters and extreme weather events in 2018.
  • The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) predicts that in the next 50 years between 250 million and 1 billion humans will leave their homes because of climate change.
  • According to an UN Office for Disaster Risk Reduction report in 2017, India has been ranked as the world’s most disaster-prone country for displacement of residents.

How is climate change expected to affect the movement of people?

  1. Greater frequency and, potentially, greater intensity of weather-related natural disasters – both sudden- and slow-onset – may lead to higher risk of humanitarian emergencies and increased population movements.
  2. Global warming, climate variability and of other effects of climate change aggravate pre-existing vulnerabilities. And may amplify adverse effects on livelihoods, health, food security and water availability.
  3. Those people wanting to move but could not due to lack of resources become trapped populations. For example, when household income in rural areas decreases due to climate change.
  4. Coastal areas and low-lying islands can become uninhabitable due to rising sea levels.
  5. Tensions and conflicts me exacerbate due to competition over shrinking natural resources.

Challenges with Environmental/ Climate Migrants and Climate Refugees

  • Environmental Migration is internal, and those who move are under the responsibility of their own nation.
  • Countries need to think about immigration control and agreements first rather than refugee protection.
  • It is difficult to separate environmental and climatic reasons from humanitarian, political, social, conflict, or economic reasons. It can sometimes be impossible work and can lead to long and unrealistic legal proceedings.
  • Creating a special refugee status for reasons related to climate change has unfortunately the opposite effect on what is required as a solution. It is a combination of people who need protection, especially factors, and cannot prove a link to climate and environmental factors.
  • Opening the 1951 Refugee Convention may weaken the tragic status of refugees, given that many people need protection because of the continuing persecution and conflict.
  • In addition, creating a new treaty to recognize climate change migrants and refugees may be a long political process and the country may not be ready to respond.

Way Forward

  • The debate on climate change should not lose focus on preventive measures. The main objective is to invest in climate and environmental solutions so that people don’t have to force them to leave home in the future.
  • The Paris Agreement provides the consolidation of climate behavior that takes into account human mobility to avoid, minimize and deal with evacuations in the context of climate change.
  • Full use of all existing laws and measures relating to both hard and soft laws in humanitarian, human rights, and refugee laws, as well as domestic evacuation, disaster management, legal migration, and more. As already highlighted in the global compact for the 2011 international dialogue on migration and the recently adopted safe, orderly and regular migration, there are many responses from migration management and policies.
  • A human rights-based approach is the key to dealing with climate change. In fact, even if the country is not the primary cause of global warming, the country of origin is primarily responsible for the protection of its citizens. Therefore, it is necessary to apply a human rights-based approach to citizens who move due to environmental and climate factors.
  • Regular travel routes provide protection related to climate immigration and can promote travel strategies according to environmental factors. Many immigration management solutions can provide status to people who are moving in climate change-affected situations, such as humanitarian visas, temporary protection, residence permits, and regional and bilateral free mobility agreements.

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