Newsletter #3 November 2008

Preparing for a warmer world: The dilemma of climate refugees


epaClimate change threatens to cause the largest refugee crisis in human history, potentially affecting more than 200 million people.  Current institutions, organizations and funding mechanisms are not sufficiently equipped to deal with this emerging crisis.  Our research indicates an urgent need for a restructuring of international institutions to meet this challenge.

Some studies predict that more than 200 million people, largely in Africa and Asia, might be forced to leave their homes to seek refuge in other places or countries over the course of the century because of increasing climate change.  Our research shows that the existing international institutions, organizations and funding mechanisms are not sufficiently equipped to deal with this looming crisis.  The situation calls for new governance.  Based on our legal and institutional research, we have developed a blueprint for a global governance architecture for the protection and resettlement of climate refugees.  We argue against the extension of the definition of refugees under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and against any role of the UN Security Council.  Instead, key elements of our proposal are a new legal instrument specifically tailored for the needs of climate refugees—a Protocol on Recognition, Protection and Resettlement of Climate Refugees to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—as well as a separate funding mechanism, the Climate Refugee Protection and Resettlement Fund.  We have also suggested that five key principles should serve as a basis for the institutional development of this regime.

The serious impacts of climate change that will compel millions of people to leave their homes are predicted mostly for the second half of this century, based on the current state of climate science.  However, the broad predictability of climate change impacts requires, and allows for, preparation and planning.  We have thus framed our proposal deliberatively not in terms of emergency response and disaster relief, but in terms of planned and organized voluntary resettlement programs.  Areas that cannot be protected through increased coastal defenses for practical or economic reasons need to be included early in long-term resettlement and reintegration programs that make the process acceptable and endurable for the affected people.  This, however, calls for early action in terms of setting up effective and appropriate governance mechanisms.  The planning for a climate refugee protocol and the related institutional settings cannot wait until 2050 when it might be too late for orderly and organized responses.  It must begin now.

For more information please view our report at: