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What is climate migration?

What is climate migration?

Environmental threats projected to displace populations worldwide in coming years

Tens of millions of people will be forced to flee their homes over the next few decades as a result of worsening environmental effects of climate change, experts have warned.

The chief of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) told the Cop26 climate summit earlier this month that “as the impacts of disasters, land degradation and water scarcity become more intense and devastating, it has become critical to address the impacts of climate change on migration, displacement and health”.

“These issues are interconnected but have been addressed in a siloed manner for too long,” Antonio Vitorino continued. “We must address them together.”

Defining issue

To date, “no legal definition for persons on the move due to environmental drivers exists”, and neither is there “an internationally accepted one”, according to the IOM.

“Labels are important,” the UN agency said in a 2008 report, and “one immediately contentious issue” is whether to use the term “climate refugees” or “climate migrants” to refer to people displaced due to climate change.

“This is not just semantics,” the report said. The definition “will have very real implications for the obligations of the international community under international law”.

More than a decade later, which term to use is still being debated. But “until the world agrees how to define a ‘climate migrant’, legislation to protect them will lag behind the reality of climate change”, said The New Statesman.

The term “refugee”, as defined by the UN’s 1951 Refugee Convention and 1967 Protocol, refers to a person with a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country”.