Turning the tide: Recognizing climate change refugees in international law

Many of the debates surrounding the environmental, social, and economic implications of climate change are now well known. However, there is increasing concern over the extent to which those suffering displacement or forced migration as a result of climate change are protected. This article seeks to highlight the plight of such individuals and suggests how the current protection gap might be remedied. Present legal structures, such as the Refugee Convention and the framework for Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), prove largely inadequate having been constructed for different purposes and being limited in their application. The alternative proposed in this article is a regionally oriented regime operating under the auspices of the UN Climate Change Framework. While both the Climate Change Convention and the Kyoto Protocol currently call for regional cooperation in respect of adaptation activities, it is argued there should be an explicit recognition of so-called climate change refugees in the post-Kyoto agreement that allows for, and facilitates, the development of regional programs to address the problem. Employing such a strategy would remedy the current protection gap that exists within the international legal system, while allowing states to respond and engage with climate change displacement in the most regionally appropriate manner.

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