Changing environments, moving people: protecting the rights of climate change refugees

By Amita Bhakta, Loughborough University

ClimaAB.jpgte change, together with the ongoing debates about the possible impacts it may have on human lives, cannot be ignored. Particular groups are already enduring the challenges of what to many may be regarded as something of the future: climate change induced displacement (CCID).

In their article in The Geographical Journal, Fornalé and Doebbler (2016) provide an in-depth discussion of the role of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in protecting the rights of refugees on the move as a direct result of climate change, and the contention which remains in effectively ensuring that these rights are fully exercised. This is a particularly poignant issue, as the paper discusses how the UNHCR does not adequately recognise people who are displaced due to the impacts of climate change as refugees.

The Huffington Post recently reported that an estimated 20 million people, many of whom were children, who were forcibly displaced in 2015 as a result of the different impacts on them due to climate change. Due to, for example, compromises to access to shelter, education, water and sanitation – these various factors can lead to other risks such as violence and sexual abuse. These risks can mean that the rights of the refugees of climate change are at high risk of being violated. But what must be remembered, is that refugees, and their rights, need to be protected. Climate change is a global phenomenon that is being experienced by all species and all people across the world. Although refugees of climate change seek to cross physical political boundaries, environmental impacts transcend these, and therefore it is the responsibility of all people to ensure that the rights of each individual, moving or settled, and the rights of the earth to have a sustainable future will be upheld. Whether the recent COP22 meeting in Marrakech was able to discuss the impact of climate change through displacement, remains to be seen. But what is clear, is that climate change refugees, and their rights, will require significant attention in years to come.

books_icon Fornalé, E. and Doebbler, C.F.J. 2016 ‘UNHCR and protection and assistance for the victims of climate change’ The Geographical Journal

60-world2 Oakes, R. 2016 ‘Climate Change, Migration and the Rights of Children’  The Huffington Post Retrieved 27 November 2016

books_icon Hicks, C. 2016, ‘COP22 host Morocco launches action plan to fight devastating climate change’ The Guardian Retrieved 27 November 2016

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