Today, I was discussing the problem of climate-change related migration. It seems that many politicians and policy-makers point to migration as a key consequence of climate change. One of our recent posts was about the recent studies saying that 100 million, 250 million, or 1 billion people would become refugees because of climate change. Clearly, this is a big issue, and deserves much closer attention.
I was discussing these problems with Steffen Angenendt, an expert in migration policy from Berlin. He was saying that the problem of climate refugees must be strictly defined before we move further. People migrate for many reasons, and we must clearly delineate between refugees forced to move because of climate change, and people who are move for economic reasons, but happen to come from a warm climate. There is a danger that by simply labeling everybody as 'climate refugees' we water down the term. He suggested that climate refugees be defined only as those who come from areas affected by rising sea levels, and those affected by major, long term droughts.
Clearly, a challenge in this area is to create a new international regime for how to deal with climate refugees, akin to the 1951 Geneva Conventions on political refugees. He suggested three possible ways to adapt international law to deal with cross-border climate migrants:
1. Extend them the same status as political refugees.
2. Create a new regime as part of an International Climate Change Treaty
3. Muddle through with our current legal structure
Quick Analysis: (1) would seem likely to overwhelm the (already strained) system, (2) would take decades to develop an acceptable global regime, and (3) would seem likely to cause nations to figure out new ways to close their borders to any migrants.
Perhaps the best route would be to begin to negotiate on (2), while we create an international body that could develop a broad consensus for how to define 'climate refugees' by identifying global hot spots where the refugees could come from.