Climate Refugees: The Unacknowledged Human Collateral Damage Of the Climate Crisis

The year is 2050. The combination of droughts, heavy rainfall and crop failure have led to food and water shortages in poorer developed, agriculturally dependent countries. Extreme flooding, increased sea levels and water pollution leaves coastal islands uninhabitable. Subsequently, over 140 million people are forced to leave their homes merely to survive.


Despite the indisputable melodrama of this scenario, media headlines have already been publishing similar warnings regarding the impending consequences of the climate migrant issue. The Guardian has predicted the climate refugee crisis ‘will create the world's biggest refugee crisis,’ᶦᶦ and would create ‘more internal displacement than war.’ᶦᶦᶦ


This issue is already occurring within coastal islands like the Maldives, which are predicted to be underwater by 2100ᶦᵛ, or the predicted 1 in 7 Bangladeshi citizens being displaced by 2050. A recent report published by online estate agent, Emoov suggests that parts of Liverpool could be underwater by 2100 given the city’s close proximity to the coast combined with the increasing sea levels.


While the vast media coverage publicizing climate change’s effects to tackle the issue and raise awareness is undoubtably necessary, it is meaningless unless international bodies legally recognise the status of the ‘climate refugee’. Currently, the law defines refugees as those who flee their home country because of persecution of their religion, race, ethnicity, or politics. Expanding this definition to include ecological refugees is crucial given the growing number of vulnerable migrants who are being uprooted due to climate issues.


The upcoming November United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow would be the optimal setting for world leaders to discuss climate refugee policies. Cara Nine’s essay ‘Ecological Refugees, States Borders, and the Lockean Proviso’ states that ‘existing territorial rights of states should change because of the change in circumstances. Their territorial entitlements must change in order to allow the ecological refugee state reasonable access to some territory somewhere.’ᵛ The mere number of displaced migrants should be justification enough to grant climate refugees the legal recognition they require to be afforded the necessary protections.


In the legal sphere, more cases holding states accountable for their poor handling of the climate crisis are appearing. A 2021 case reported that a Bangladeshi man with asthma was recently able to avoid deportation from France by putting forward the first ever ‘pollution plea’. The man argued that that going back would leave him vulnerable to a “severe deterioration in his condition, and possibly premature death, due to the dangerous levels of pollution” in Bangladesh. Notably, this was the first success of its kind in the French legal system.ᵛᶦ


The climate refuse crisis is an imminent problem which cannot be solved unless first recognised and defined.



ᶦ The World Bank, Rigaud, Kanta Kumari; de Sherbinin, Alex; Jones, Bryan; Bergmann, Jonas; Clement, Viviane; Ober, Kayly; Schewe, Jacob; Adamo, Susana; McCusker, Brent; Heuser, Silke; Midgley, Amelia. [2018.] Groundswell: Preparing for Internal Climate Migration

ᶦᶦ Matthew Taylor, Climate Change ‘will create the worlds biggest refugee crisis.’ The Guardian (2 November 2017) <https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/nov/02/climate-change-will-create-worlds-biggest-refugee-crisis> accessed 30th May 2021

ᶦᶦᶦ Saeed Kamali Dehghan, Climate disasters ‘caused more internal displacement than war’ in 2020. The Guardian (20 May 2021) https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/may/20/climate-disasters-caused-more-internal-displacement-than-war-in-2020 accessed 30th May 2021

ᶦᵛ Owen Mulhern, Sea level Rise Projection Map – Maldives (31 July 2020) <https://earth.org/data_visualization/sea-level-rise-by-2100-maldives/> accessed on 30th May 2021

ᵛ Cara Nine, Ecological Refugees, States Borders, and the Lockean Proviso, Journal of Applied Philosophy,Vol. 27, No. 4, 2010

ᵛᶦ J Henley, Man saved from deportation after pollution plea in French legal 'first' (The Guardian, 12 January 2021) <https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/12/bangladeshi-man-with-asthma-wins-france-deportation-fight> 8 June 2021

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