- Paper (December 2012) – A Convention for Climate Change Displaced Persons
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Climate change displacement presents an urgent adaptation problem for the international community. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the Stern Review and many other studies, warn that the effects of climate change may cause millions of people to be displaced.
While no one knows with certainty what climate change will mean for migration patterns, there is a growing consensus that climate change will lead to significant population movements over time.
There is ‘no coherent multilateral governance framework for environmental migration … [regulation] is extremely fragmented and disparate.’ Neither existing climate change law nor refugee law adequately provides for climate changed displaced persons (CCDPs). There has been no coordinated response by governments to address human displacement, whether domestic or international, temporary or permanent, due to climate change. And given the nature and magnitude of the problem which climate change displacement presents, ad hoc measures based on existing domestic regimes may lead to inconsistency, confusion and conflict. It seems to us that the international community has an obvious interest in addressing the problem of human displacement in a coordinated fashion and in the provision of pre-emptive resettlement to those most at risk in terms of the impacts of climate change.
We propose a single, multilateral, stand-alone treaty or convention (the ‘Convention’) to address the problem of climate change displacement, the scope of which – like the problem, both in terms of causation and consequences – is global; parties to the Convention would include both developed and developing states. And while our Convention is a stand-alone instrument, it does draw upon and adapt provisions of other instruments to provide for, assist and protect those displaced by climate change. Adopting a multifaceted, cooperative and international approach to providing for, assisting and protecting CCDPs, our Convention encompasses those displaced internally (and migration experts state that most persons displaced by climate change will be unlikely to cross an international border) and those who cross international borders.
Developing state parties to the Convention – with economies dependent on the natural environment, but without sufficient resources to mitigate and adapt to the effects of climate change – will be those states most in need of displacement assistance. As the International Council on Human Rights Policy notes, ‘the most dramatic impacts of climate change are expected to occur in the world’s poorest countries’; indeed, these countries already experience such impacts.
Both temporary and permanent relocation would be provided for under the Convention; the need for relocation assistance and protection arises whether the relocation is temporary or permanent. In outline form, our Convention proposal is as follows:
- The Convention would provide a general framework for assistance to CCDPs, and would address gaps in current human rights, refugee and humanitarian law protections for CCDPs.
- Again, most people made homeless by climate change are expected to stay within their home countries. The Convention, however, would encompass both those displaced within states and those who cross international borders.
- Persons displaced within state borders would be subject to a framework of assistance in which obligations would be shared between the home state and the international community. In the case of CCDPs who have migrated across state borders, the Convention would outline the rights and obligations of the CCDP and the home and host states.
- The Convention would provide for contributions to a fund for climate change displacement by developed state parties based upon the principle, at least as a starting point, of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’.
- We recognise that current levels of scientific knowledge create causality issues regarding the extent to which climate change contributes to a particular weather event or population movement. The Convention would recognise problems with (a) determining the extent to which climate change causes an event giving rise to displacement; (b) identifying certain phenomena and trends as consistent with climate change; and (c) establishing the extent to which humans contribute to particular or general climate change events. The Convention would adopt a ‘very likely’ standard (greater than 90% probability) to identify certain phenomena and trends as consistent with climate change, and human contribution. This higher standard provides increased certainty and targeted resource allocation in the context of a convention that could apply to hundreds of millions of people.
- By adopting a ‘very likely’ standard, and in light of the current state of climate change science, we anticipate that requests from state parties attracting the operation of our Convention would overwhelmingly concern slow-onset, gradual displacement, which is more likely to be able to be established as induced by anthropogenic climate change than a sudden disaster.
- Rather than assigning rights and protections on the basis of the individual satisfaction of definitional criteria, as in the 1951 Refugee Convention, we believe that en masse designation of CCDP status is more appropriate to the characteristics of climate change migration.
- Because of the necessity of integrating complex issues of causality and evolving science into decision-making in respect of climate change migration, our proposal involves the creation of a detailed institutional architecture for designating a particular population as CCDPs.
- The prospect of entire states becoming uninhabitable differentiates the plight of small island nations from other regions in which there is likely to be large-scale displacement. We propose that the principles of proximity, self-determination and the safe-guarding of intangible culture should be applicable to regional bilateral displacement agreements between small island nations and host states, such agreements to be negotiated under the aegis of the Climate Change Displacement Organisation, the organisation established under the Convention.
The Convention contemplates the collaborative provision of pre-emptive assistance (and if necessary, resettlement) to those most at risk in terms of the impacts of climate change. Provision of assistance under the Convention could, thus, be described as ‘anticipatory adaptation.’
The Convention would largely operate prospectively; assistance to CCDPs would be based on a ‘bottom-up/top-down’ assessment of the likelihood of their environment becoming uninhabitable due to events consistent with anthropogenic climate change such that resettlement measures and assistance were necessary. In other words, displacement is viewed as a form of adaptation that creates particular local vulnerabilities requiring protection as well as assistance through international cooperation. As Mastrandrea and Schneider note,
[s]uccess in adaptation to climate change will come from the mating of top-down and bottom-up assessment. Scientific projections are most useful when joined with the intimate knowledge of existing vulnerabilities that stakeholders possess … Detailed bottom-up studies provide understanding of the structural, institutional, psychological, financial, legal and cultural frameworks of affected sectors [and] … communities.
For a copy of our most recent paper (July 2011), which addresses arguments against a climate change convention such as that which we propose, and for more information on our CCDP convention proposal, please contact David Hodgkinson at firstname.lastname@example.org or on +61 402 824 832.