Journal of Human Rights and the Environment

The politics of environmental migration and climate justice in the Pacific region

Silja Klepp * and Johannes Herbeck *

Keywords: climate justice, adaptation, environmental migration, Kiribati, Fiji, Pacific region, legal anthropology, migrate with dignity


Starting from a critical discussion of current arguments and concepts in research on the environment–migration nexus, the article analyses how environmental migration is discussed in the Pacific region. In the first section we provide a short overview of the academic debates on environmental migration and describe their limitations. We suggest that a legal stalemate has arisen at global level regarding environmental migrants. The second section examines the evolving negotiations to address environmental migrants in the Pacific region that are, in contrast to the global North, based on climate science and on calls for climate justice and solidarity. We conclude that the inclusion of post-colonial perspectives in the debates on environmental migration can render visible the political nature of climate adaptation choices and reconnect global negotiations to questions of fair burden sharing in adaptation. The article brings a legal anthropological lens to bear on empirical material from the Pacific region, to show the new rights, resources and policies that may emerge from climate change and migration debates. The article offers insights into the increasingly complex decision-making processes and development of policies and laws in the context of global climate change.

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