The United Nations and its refugee agency, UNHCR, should define the legal status of environmental migrants, according to a new study by the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
The authors of the study, Dr Maria Waldinger and Professor Sam Fankhauser, call for people who migrate due to environmental reasons to receive more clarity about their legal situation, including whether they should receive protection for international migration.
The study is released as countries meet in Bonn, Germany, for the latest round of negotiations about a new international agreement on climate change.
The study states: “The legal status of environmental migrants therefore needs to be defined, for example, through a process led by the UN or UNHCR, in order to give people certainty about their legal situation.”
However, the authors caution that it is difficult to work out to what extent climate change might already be contributing to migration.
The study reports some evidence to suggest a link between climate, economic shocks and conflict. For example, the conflict in Syria has coincided with a record drought in the Fertile Crescent – a drought made up to three times more likely by climate change.
Professor Sam Fankhauser said: “Some researchers have suggested that there may be a link between climate change, the record drought that took place in Syria, the conflict and hence the refugee crisis in Europe. But it is very difficult to quantify what the contribution of climate change has been. What is clear is the potential for climate change to affect factors, such as the supply of food and water, which can drive migration.”
Click here to read the paper.