Recognition of the climate refugee for integral human development
(Foto by Hector Retamal/AFP)
Ana Marta ALEIXO
CADOS, Universidade Católica Portuguesa
Recognition of the climate refugee for integral human development
The status of climate refugee is still not legally recognised, further complicating concerted and specific support action for these displaced persons. The scientific community calls for an international commitment to support the populations most exposed to the scourge of climate change; however, we must not forget that prevention, adaptation and mitigation should alleviate this global problem that has affected and will continue to affect us all.
The scientific community has long called for an amendment to the 1951 Convention on Refugee Status that recognises migration caused by climate change as forced migration (e.g., Berchin, et al, 2017; Carević & Novokmet, 2021, Hiraide, 2022). Although the climate refugee status is not yet legally recognised, the debate has been deepened in recent years due to the increase in natural disasters as well as those resulting from climate change, giving rise to a migratory movement in the most severe cases (e.g., Berchin, et al, 2017; Carević & Novokmet, 2021, Hiraide, 2022).
According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), which monitors disaster-related displacement, 28.6 million displacements associated with climate change, namely flooding and storms, were recorded in 2020.
Although the designation of environmental refugee was defined in 1985, the category has undergone some changes and is now categorised as climate refugee. Hiraide (2022) defends the alternative concept of ecological refugee to minimize the racism and rationalisation often associated with this type of displacement.
We can define a climate refugee as a person who is forced into displacement due to the consequences of climate change (Berchin, et al., 2017), and this move may even lead to a change of country in more serious cases. According to Hiraide (2022), the reference to climate is not sufficient to identify this type of displacement (displacement arising from a volcanic eruption should also be included for example). On the other hand, Milán-García et al. (2021) state that it is impossible to talk about climate refugees without associating them to international migration, climate justice, sustainability, human rights and disaster risk reduction. Milán-García et al. (2021) note that between 1999 and 2019, 333 international studies were conducted on climate change and migration, namely in the United States, United Kingdom, Germany and China.
As noted above, the status of climate refugee is still not legally recognised, further complicating concerted and specific support action for these displaced persons. The scientific community calls for an international commitment to support the populations most exposed to the scourge of climate change; however, we must not forget that prevention, adaptation and mitigation should alleviate this global problem that has affected and will continue to affect us all.
Research must be increased to raise awareness of the legal acceptance among the international community, particularly supranational institutions of this type of refugee (Berchin, et al., 2017). Consequently, concerted action must be taken to support the well-being and effective reception of these refugees. Thus, good reception practices of other countries could also serve as the basis for joint management grounded on a planned and systematic response that can avoid peaks of mass migration leading to populist anti-immigration movements (Carević &Novokmet, 2021).
Stanley et al. (2021) note that the media rarely impact this type of migration. Perhaps this is also why there has been no institutional echo nor an applicability rationale put in place in response to such challenges.
Research should be extended to find out more about this phenomenon, notably on:
- The countries currently devastated by climate change and most likely to suffer consequences in the future;
- The number of climate refugees per country and place of displacement/reception;
- The countries that most receive this type of refugee;
- The barriers that place the greatest constraints on more effective action by receiving countries;
- The challenges facing this type of refugee that condition their integration and integral development.
Five years after the publication of Enciclica Laudato si’, the Vatican presented a document in May 2020 on the application of the encyclica with more than 200 recommendations in defence of the environment and human life. It encourages several actions in favour of integral human development, notably making educational institutions, notably higher education, responsible for studying climate change and, in particular, the impact of environmental degradation on populations and the legal recognition of the category of “climate refugee”.
As regards integral human development, it is equally pertinent to understand how biodiversity can be endangered by extreme disasters resulting from climate change, as well as the future consequences for the planet.
In light of the above, future research intends to further the conceptual development of climate refugee so that it encompasses all options that lead to the identification of this type of migration and permits its integral human development.
Berchin, I.I., Valduga, I.B., Garcia, J., & Guerra, J.B. (2017). Climate change and forced migrations: An effort towards recognizing climate refugees. Geoforum, 84, 147-150.
Carević, M. & Rusan Novokmet, R. (2021) Challenges for the contemporary international legal framework and the rule of law: Is the international community doing its best for the protection of climate migrants?. Zbornik Pravnog fakulteta Sveučilišta u Rijeci, 42 (3), 591-609.
Hiraide, L. A. (2022). Climate refugees: A useful concept? Towards an alternative vocabulary of ecological displacement. Politics. https://doi.org/10.1177/02633957221077257
Milán-García, J., Caparrós-Martínez, J. L., Rueda-López, N., & de Pablo Valenciano, J. (2021). Climate change-induced migration: a bibliometric review. Globalization and Health, 17(1), 1-10.
Stanley, S. K., Ng Tseung-Wong, C., Leviston, Z., & Walker, I. (2021). Acceptance of climate change and climate refugee policy in Australia and New Zealand: The case against political polarisation. Climatic Change, 169(3-4), article 26.
 Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC), available at https://www.internal-displacement.org/research-areas/Displacement-disasters-and-climate-change, consulted on 26 April 2022.
 Available at https://www.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/messages/migration/documents/papa-francesco_20200513_world-migrants-day-2020.html, consulted on 21 April 2022
 Think Tank – European Parliament, available at https://www.europarl.europa.eu/thinktank/en/document/EPRS_BRI(2021)698753, consulted on 21 April 2022