Responses to Climate Migration

By Katrina M. Wyman

In recent years there have been suggestions that climate change might generate 200 million or more migrants by 2050. In response to these suggestions, and concerns that existing law and policy will be inadequate to deal with the expected displacement, there recently have been several proposals for new legally binding multilateral instruments specifically addressing climate migration.

This Article makes three contributions to the nascent literature on the legal and policy responses to migration induced by climate change.

First, it identifies the two principal gaps in existing law and policy that underpin to a significant extent the recent proposals for a new binding multilateral instrument, describing these gaps as the “rights” gap and the “funding” gap.

Second, this Article analyzes three of the leading proposals for a new binding multilateral instrument. It identifies the ways that these proposals would respond to the rights and funding gaps and emphasizes the proposals’ limitations.

Third, this Article emphasizes that addressing climate migration ultimately requires increasing the resilience of communities especially vulnerable to climate change. It then identifies ways to mitigate the effects of the rights and funding gaps by reducing existing vulnerabilities to climate change, without a new binding multilateral instrument. While a series of measures relying largely on existing legal and policy tools may seem less satisfying than proposals for a new binding multilateral instrument, these measures are more likely to address the concerns about human vulnerability to climate change that the proposals for new binding multilateral instruments have admirably highlighted.

Cite as: Katrina M. Wyman, Responses to Climate Migration, 37 Harv. Envtl. L. Rev. 167 (2013).

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  1. Paul De Gruyter, Geneva says:

    Dear Madam,
    Your article is very good but I cannot find any reference to many important publications issued in recent years.
    I also think that the terms “environmentally-induced displacement”, “climate-change induced displacement” or “forced environmental migration” are much better than “climate migrations”

    You can look at newly issued publications in this regard:

    -Bogumil Terminski, Environmentally-Induced Displacement. Theoretical frameworks and Current Challenges, CEDEM Research Paper, University of Liege, 2012,

    – McMichael, A.J., McMichael, C., Berry, H. and Bowen, K. 2010. ‘Climate-related displacement: health risks and responses’. In McAdam, J (ed.), Climate Change and Displacement: Multidisciplinary Perspectives, pp 191-219. Hart Publishing: Oxford.

  2. Raghavendra Madhu and Priyanka Gupta says:

    There is a need to reframing climate change governance in developing countries. Climate related migration is a multi-factorial issue and requires a multi-sectorial response. Populations in developing country settings predominantly depend on climate sensitive sectors for livelihoods which makes it highly vulnerable to climate change. Climate change can have serious impact on its crops, forests and coastal regions, which can in turn hinder the overall development. Unregulated exploitation of environmental resources and unsustainable government policies in agro-economies has adverse impact on rural livelihood, inducing migration. Such migration also aggravates the challenges of food and human security. Experiences from countries like India and Africa suggest droughts are getting worse and climate uncertainty is growing, even though they have negligently contributed to global warming. These countries might not be able to initiate sufficient adaptation programmesdue to constrained resources,which further push such issues to bottom on the development agenda.Thus climate migrants and related laborers rely on support from the international organizations, which are of short-term assistance to initiate adaptation programmes and to advocate for mainstreaming the issue into development. The emerging argument is that with increasing migration pressure attributed to climate change;it is a cardinal prerequisite that the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change develop policy bindings for these member nations for effective grant management and innovative mitigation strategies. Actions need to direct towards sustainability through improved governance measures such as integrating climatechallenges into national social empowerment programs which are vertically driven on singular issues.

    Raghavendra Madhu is currently a senior consultant to Government of India and practices development policy and social governance research in India. Priyanka Gupta teaches sociology at the University of Mumbai.

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