Climate mobility and displacement

Conventions, frameworks, and initiatives relevant to addressing climate mobility and displacement.

For those most at risk of the impacts of climate change, there are often few options to move safely and legally across borders. There are gaps in human rights protection for persons crossing borders in response to climate change.

Here is a snapshot of conventions, frameworks, and initiatives relevant to addressing climate mobility and displacement.

  1. There is no legally recognised term “climate refugees” While the majority of climate mobility is internal, migration laws are often not conducive to receiving, providing protection, or realising the rights of environmental migrants. Many people uprooted by climate change are unlikely to meet legal definitions or other conditions for employment-based, family or humanitarian admissions to destination countries.
  2. Under the 1951 Refugee Convention, the categories of people recognised as “refugees” are very narrowly defined and is unlikely to be a useful legal tool.
  3. The Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration specifically includes reference to addressing climate change as a driver of migration. It invites States to develop mechanisms for disaster risk reduction and climate change mitigation and adaptation to both sudden and slow-onset events, and to address the needs of the people whose lives and rights are most at risk from these threats.
  4. The Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015–2030 recognises that migrants contribute to the resilience of communities and societies, and their knowledge, skills and capacities can be useful in the design and implementation of disaster risk reduction.  
  5. Under the SDGs, migrants are recognized in SDG 10 on inequalities. Target 10.7 aims to facilitate orderly, safe, regular and responsible migration and mobility of people, including through the implementation of planned and well-managed migration policies. 
  6. Under human rights instruments, in 2020, the Human Rights Committee in the case Teitiota v. New Zealand rejected a claim from a Kiribati man claiming asylum in New Zealand related to migration due to climate change. The Committee agreed that sending him back to Kiribati would not currently threaten his life, but might do so in 10-15 years if his homeland becomes uninhabitable.  It also called on States to continue to review the changing situation as the effects of climate change in receiving States may expose individuals to a violation of their right to life, thereby triggering non-refoulement obligations of sending States.  Human rights advocates have seen this as laying the groundwork for future appeals.
  7. Under the UNFCCC, there is a Task Force on Displacement to help countries avert, minimize and address displacement related to the adverse impacts of climate change
  8. The Platform on Disaster Displacement (PDD), addresses cross-border migration in the context of climate change

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Climate change and Human Rights: Contributions from NHRIs