No simple adjustment in international law can provide an adequate response to the issues raised by the current debates on “climate migration.” Yet, these discussions could stress the need for structural reforms in global governance in a growingly interdependent world. This introduction presents an overview of the central themes of this book. It introduces the main methodologies and theoretical frameworks that form the general background for the following analysis.
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A humanitarian narrative construes climate migration as an issue of human suffering. It is largely accepted that each state must protect the human rights of individuals within its jurisdiction. However, certain circumstances such as a natural disaster, which are exacerbated by climate change, may result in a state being unable to effectively protect its population. Migration may result from inadequate protection in the place of origin, and it may also cause greater protection needs during displacement or at the place of destination. This chapter explores existing norms on human rights and humanitarian assistance, and it suggests some reflections on the prospects and dangers of a humanitarian argument in relation with climate migration.
The 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol established an international protection regime applicable to a narrowly defined category of individuals unable to return to their country of origin due to a “well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.” Most of the impact of climate change occurs outside this regime, and outside complementary regimes of protection, being generally confined within states and more often than not occurring in circumstances where migration appears as “voluntary” rather than “forced.” Beyond weak arguments by analogy for a protection of “climate refugees,” climate change sheds new light on the need for a protection of the rights of all migrants. In response to climate change, human mobility needs to be reconceived as a “normal” social phenomenon, and the specific vulnerability of migrants needs to be addressed systematically through adequate measures of protection.
Previous chapters have shown that the concept of climate migration reflects larger issues of international solidarity and responsibility. How could states be persuaded to reinforce the protection of the human rights of migrants or to relate more responsibly to the global atmospheric commons? By deconstructing prevailing conceptions of national economic interests and national security, this chapter submits that both human rights protection and climate change responsibility can be envisioned through an alternative construction of states’ interests in a complex and interdependent world.
Migration has recently entered the negotiations on climate change as either a form of adaptation or a category of loss and damage, but few concrete steps have yet been proposed. A normative argument based on the law of state responsibility or on a certain interpretation of the principle of common but differentiated responsibility calls for states emitting excessive quantities of greenhouse gas to mitigate climate change and to compensate the states most affected by its impacts. However, industrial states are likely to elude this argument, opting instead for a self-serving climate regime, in particular by pushing developing states to further contribute in the containment of international migration in the South.