The concept of 'climate refugee': Towards a possible definition

24-05-2018

According to statistics published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, every year since 2008, an average of 26.4 million persons around the world have been forcibly displaced by floods, windstorms, earthquakes or droughts. This is equivalent to one person being displaced every second. Depending on the frequency and scale of the major natural disasters occurring, there are significant fluctuations in the total number of displaced people from one year to the next, yet the trend over recent decades has been on the rise. Many find refuge within their own country, but some are forced to go abroad. With climate change, the number of 'climate refugees' will rise in the future. So far, the national and international response to this challenge has been limited, and protection for the people affected remains inadequate. What adds further to the gap in the protection of such people – who are often described as 'climate refugees' – is that there is neither a clear definition for this category of people, nor are they covered by the 1951 Refugee Convention. The latter extends only to people who have a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and are unable or unwilling to seek protection from their home countries. While the EU has so far not recognised climate refugees formally, it has expressed growing concern and has taken action to support and develop resilience in the countries potentially affected by climate-related stress.

According to statistics published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, every year since 2008, an average of 26.4 million persons around the world have been forcibly displaced by floods, windstorms, earthquakes or droughts. This is equivalent to one person being displaced every second. Depending on the frequency and scale of the major natural disasters occurring, there are significant fluctuations in the total number of displaced people from one year to the next, yet the trend over recent decades has been on the rise. Many find refuge within their own country, but some are forced to go abroad. With climate change, the number of 'climate refugees' will rise in the future. So far, the national and international response to this challenge has been limited, and protection for the people affected remains inadequate. What adds further to the gap in the protection of such people – who are often described as 'climate refugees' – is that there is neither a clear definition for this category of people, nor are they covered by the 1951 Refugee Convention. The latter extends only to people who have a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and are unable or unwilling to seek protection from their home countries. While the EU has so far not recognised climate refugees formally, it has expressed growing concern and has taken action to support and develop resilience in the countries potentially affected by climate-related stress.