Asia Takes Pending Environmental Refugee Planning Seriously

by Matt Ball on February 9, 2011

A report was released yesterday from the Asian Development Bank titled, “Migration Due to Climate Change Demands Attention.” In the report, the climate threats and the complex nature of migration were outlined. Such impacts as rainfall variability (droughts and floods), high temperature, more severe monsoons and cyclones, and rising sea levels all pose issues to the areas highly concentrated populations. With 4 billion people in the region, mass migrations of millions of people need to be planned for.

To date the planning and assistance schemes for climate-induced migration are poorly coordinated, with little cross-collaboration between national governments and international aid organizations. The report, and subsequent meetings and discussions, aims to stimulate policy debate on how to tackle the anticipated movement of people due to these global changes. The ultimate aim is to encourage sound foresighted policy that would manage displacement due to these pressures, and ultimately enable communities to remain where they are. The policy aim is to provide people living in precarious locations with a better chance of enjoying a sustainable livelihood with access to food, water and social services.

Look to the Asian Development Bank website for not only this report, but online discussions, and reference materials on this pressing subject.

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J. Doherty January 10, 2012 at 7:35 pm

So if an island nation is submerged beneath the ocean, does it maintain its membership in the United Nations? Who is responsible for the citizens? Do they travel on its passport? Who claims and enforces offshore mineral and fishing rights in waters around a submerged nation? International law currently has no answers to such questions.
United Nations Ambassador Phillip Muller of the Marshall Islands said there is no sense of urgency to find not only those answers, but also to address the causes of climate change, which many believe to be responsible for rising ocean levels.
“Even if we reach a legal agreement sometime soon, which I don’t think we will, the major players are not in the process,” Muller said.
Those players, the participants said, include industrial nations such as the United States and China that emit the most carbon dioxide and other so-called greenhouse gases. Many climate scientists say those gases are responsible for global warming. Mary-Elena Carr of Columbia University’s Earth Institute said what is now an annual sea level rise of a few millimeters will increase dramatically by the year 2100. “The biggest challenge is to preserve their nationality without a territory,” said Bogumil Terminski from Geneva. International legal experts are discovering climate change law, and the Pacific island nation of Tuvalu is a case in point: The Polynesian archipelago is doomed to disappear beneath the ocean. Now lawyers are asking what sort of rights citizens have when their homeland no longer exists.
t present, however, there appear to be at least three possibilities that could advance the international debate about ‘climate refugee’ protections and fill existing gaps in international law.
The first option is to revise the 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees to include climate (or environmental) refugees and to offer legal protections similar to those for refugees fleeing political persecution. A second, more ambitious option is to negotiate a completely new convention, one that would try to guarantee specific rights and protections to climate or environmental ‘refugees

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