photo © Planet Ocean / Yann Arthus Bertrand
An environmental refugee is defined as a “person displaced owing to environmental causes, notably land loss and degradation and natural disaster”. With sea levels rising and increasing environmental disasters, in intensity and frequency, concerns about climate-induced displacements are growing, especially in Least Developed and developing countries.
Solutions must be found through transversal and inclusive cooperation. Mitigation and adaptation measures must encompass building resilience, and if necessary supporting the communities in their migrations, arrival and integration in new countries. International initiatives aim to increase knowledge, raise awareness and support concrete actions to address these displacements and find solutions, from coastal ecosystem protection, to creating channels for migrations and psychological support for displaced populations.
- According to the Sendai Framework, 144 million people were displaced by disasters between 2008 and 2012, with an average of 27 million people displaced each year.
- The Global Report on Internal Displacements of 2016 estimates that twice as many people are displaced by weather related disasters than by conflicts and violence. The International Organization for Migration estimates that up to 200 million people could be displaced by 2050 due to various environmental changes.
The fifth Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report states that “climate change over the 21st century is projected to increase displacement of people”. The Global Ocean Forum, who worked extensively on climate-induced displacements, has identified a “protection gap” under which climate induced displacement falls, in between the migrant and refugee status but without a clear definition. There are still many lingering gaps which should be addressed, including the lack of an international law framework specific to environmental displacements, and of a commonly agreed definition on loss and damages within international climate negotiations.
A comprehensive response to the issue should consider nature-based solutions to adaptation through conservation and restoration of coastal ecosystems that play a key role as buffer zones. It should further identify the need to protect and support the populations by better planning and management of displaced populations, awareness raising and long-term plans by countries.
The Sendai framework for disaster risk reduction is central to limiting climate change and disasters’ impacts on vulnerable populations and to limit climate induced displacements, or address them more efficiently, for instance through heightened international cooperation. It promotes enhanced local actions for disaster preparedness, response and recovery. Recommendations from the Global Ocean Forum and the International Organization for Migrations are to strengthen the protection of displaced persons under the Sendai Framework by investing in capacity building, and anticipation capabilities, as well as through the rebuilding and recovery phase after disasters. Finally, the international community must be ready to channel increasing international migrations.