‘Climate Refugees’ is a term coined to refer to persons who have been displaced or have migrated due to adverse effects of climate change or due to a gradual or sudden alteration of their natural environment. The term does not exist in international refugee law, and persons who leave their countries due to natural disasters or climate change do not qualify for protection under international law.
For the longest, we have known refugees as persons fleeing away, majorly from political violence or tribal clashes. But, we have failed to consider that not every refugee is fleeing from war or conflict. Take, for example, people fleeing from drought, floods, or even poverty.
To best understand Climate Refugees, let us first consider a more familiar case of internal displacements. When an area floods or has a long-lived dry season, the locals may be forced to move to another area. In this case, the locals have been internally displaced due to climate change.
An individual may be internally displaced several times, forcing him/her out of the country. Consequently, the person becomes a Climate Refugee or migrant.
Climate Change as a cause of Natural disasters
How does climate change result in natural disasters, such as drought, you may ask? Well, here is an explanation.
Let’s look at it from the point of view of a country that experiences snowing. Climate change can cause an increase in temperatures, leading to more precipitation, and as a result, these countries will experience rain instead of snow.
In this case, the rain may fall in large amounts and unpredictable, resulting in floods in the once snowing countries.
Shifting on to the opposite side, high temperatures due to climate change can lead to drought in areas experiencing low rainfall as it will cause complete evaporation of soil water.
Global North Countries
Developed, Global North, countries are characterized by technological advancement, low population growth, political stability, wealth, and dominance in world politics and trade. These countries consume more fossil fuel and more energy than most global citizens.
Daniel Farber, a legal scholar from the University of California, Berkely, has blamed the Americans for the disproportionate amount of greenhouse gases that they (Americans) have benefited from by gaining corporate profits and enabling their energy-intensive lifestyle.
As a result, there exists a moral obligation by the Global North countries to compensate the Global South Countries, whose citizens are displaced due to the unregulated activities of the developed countries that cause climate change. A portion of Latin American governments calls this moral obligation ‘climate debt.’
Climate debt is simply the payment given to the Global South countries for climate reconstructions, in addition to the injuries and damages.
Examples of Climate Refugees
Refugees and IDPs in Lake Chad Basin have been affected by the ongoing strife with Boko-Haram and the drying of Lake Chad, which is their source of livelihood. The drying of Lake Chad is attributed to climate change.
In Central America, migrants flee state repression, violence, and extreme weather conditions attributed to climate change, such as unpredictable, excess rainfall, which causes flooding.
What can be done?
First will be corrective justice, which involves negotiations between governments under an international body such as the European Union or the United States. In this case, the countries with high green-house gasses emission recompense financially. The funds are pooled together under the international Green Climate Fund, which is later used in the reception of Climate migrants or refugees.
The second alternative will entail suing the companies emitting green-house gases, majorly the fossil-fuel companies. This is done through tort litigation, where the corporation is held responsible for a loss or damage. Under litigations, companies can also be made to pay for climate damages tax, which acts as compensation for the damages and losses they are likely to cause. The tax is charged progressively according to the amount of emission.
The tax funds can be used to relocate coastal communities due to sea-level rise, crop insurance, national and local contingency funds, capacity and institution building, damage assessment, livelihood improvement programs, and cost of climate reconstruction.
Lastly, international laws should put a keen eye on Climate Refugees. Just like any other refugees, climate migrants ought to be protected and their rights upheld. It is high time the international community opened its eyes to this exacerbating crisis of climate migrants.
If data is anything to go by, in 2017, out of the 30.6 million displaced people across 135 countries, 60 percent were as a result of natural disasters. It is high time the measures to combat climate change move away from paper and be actualized in the real world. Every person’s role is to ensure that they are not the next climate migrants due to their ignorance and failure to take action.