Climate migration: Human rights crisis in the making

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Abstract

The 25th Conference of Parties (COP25) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was held in Santiago, Chile, in early December 2019. Here, state parties to the UNFCCC and its extending treaties, the Kyoto Protocol and the Paris Agreement, met with the goal of adapting international agreements to the dynamic landscape of climate change prevention and mitigation. As many nations fall short of the emissions reductions planned in their 2020 Nationally Determined Contributions and the effects of anthropogenic global warming appear to intensify, much of this effort has shifted toward ameliorating worsening human impacts. Low-lying coastal communities are especially vulnerable, as sea levels rise and the chemical equilibria of the oceans change, damaging the ecosystems upon which many local economies rely. As instances of flooding increase in frequency and marine ecological services become less lucrative, residents of these areas are forced to migrate from their homes, seeking refuge in other regions of their countries or across national borders. Preventing widespread human dislocation resulting from the effects of slow-onset climate change is a key goal for climate action. The reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and construction of social protection systems may help to address these growing risks to human life and prosperity. To meet this challenge, international organizations are taking a variety of approaches to assist governments in their management and preparation for global climate change, treating the issue as one of technology, justice, and development. However, significant work remains to expand the scope and capacity of protections for displaced persons and to allow access to these systems by climate migrants, who fall largely outside of traditional legal definitions of refugees. Herein, the role of climate migration in international environmental negotiations is considered.