UN projects 50 Million Environmental Refugees by 2020

The UN has announced that we can expect to see 50 million environmental refugees by 2020, and that many people are already being displaced by food shortages and bad weather in Africa and India.

An article in the Huffington Post talks about migrants arriving in Southern European countries such as Spain and Germany, and points to food shortages as a catalyst in the recent middle East uprisings.

Environmental refugees have been on the move now for years, cramming camps in the Sudan, for instance; however, there has been no measurement of their numbers because until now there has been no official designation of environmental crisis for refugee status. A refugee was someone fleeing war or human rights infringements.

Looks like the UN may have to create a new category, and fast!

ACT examines the impacts on food supply for Canadians in our upcoming session: Climate Change Adaptation and Crops & Food Supply, which runs April-December 2011, with a major report on policy responses in this context due out in February 2012.


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  1. Jennifer Doherty says:

    Hello, This is such an excellent article,

    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 the University of 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`.

  2. Claire Havens says:

    A huge huge huge problem that not enough people are talking about, yet pacific islanders have known their fate for years. We need some serious international action on how to deal with climate refugees, and some domestic discussions on how Canada can support this work. Great post Deborah!

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