"As we are seeing it play out now, it is the poorest and most vulnerable communities - those who contributed the least to global warming - that are paying the price and will be hit hardest by this crisis." - Climate-refugees.org
Climate Refugees, environmental migrants, or climate migrants leave their homes due to disaster displacement and climate change.
It's easy to see human rights and environmentalism as two different spaces. But in reality, they are the same. See our article on environmental justice to read more about environmental racism. As for globally, climate change or the climate crisis creates hotspots throughout the world. Hotspots are weather extremes - hot and too dry or cold and too wet. The issue is that many of these hotspots are already dealing with water scarcity. So you add to water inadequacy, weather conditions (where livestock and crops cannot survive). Without a plentiful water source and a thriving ecosystem, you have food insecurity and an economic system crash (threatened livelihoods). And so to survive, many people are displaced or removed from their homes and communities.
Additionally, people are displaced due to natural catastrophes, typically caused by climate change.
According to the UN Refugee Agency, "In 2018, extreme weather events such as severe drought in Afghanistan, Tropical Cyclone Gita in Samoa, and flooding in the Philippines, resulted in acute humanitarian needs. According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, there were 18.8 million new disaster-related internal displacements recorded in 2017. Most disaster displacement linked to natural hazards and the impacts of climate change is internal, with those affected remaining within their national borders. However, displacement across borders also occurs, and may be interrelated with situations of conflict or violence."
What is the correct term for climate refugees?
Here is where the complexity of the term and the laws come in when we discuss climate refugees. Climate refugees do not have a formal definition, and they are not sanctioned or protected under international law. Technically they are not refugees, and in many circles calling them refugees is avoided for fear that using the term may undermine protections for refugees.
Let's not forget that, in general, refugees are people forced to leave their national borders and cannot return home due to safety concerns. Many environmental migrants are displaced amongst their countries' boundaries due to their own "free will." "Free will," meaning they "choose" to evacuate - think of evacuees in New Orleans post-Hurricane Katrina or our Puerto Rican neighbors post-Hurricane Maria. It feels weird to say "free will" when a community is devastated, and folks cannot make a living. But still under many government agencies, including the UNHCR, The UN Refugee Agency, the term is labeled misleading and potentially harmful. That said, amongst social activist circles, "climate refugee" is more so a label that illustrates the dire circumstances that face many people that flee their communities due to an "unlivable" climate.
That said, climate refugees, climate change migrants, environmental migrants, climate migrants, etc. are humans that "predominantly for reasons of sudden or progressive change in the environment that adversely affects their lives or living conditions, are obliged to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad” (IOM, 2011:33), - Environmental Migration
Regardless of the labeling, the truth is that we have to come together as a global community to care for displaced folks. Climate refugees fall in between the cracks when dealing with laws and protections, which is devastating for their livelihoods and wellbeing.
We will be exploring more in terms of migrants, refugees, immigrants, and asylum seekers. If you are subscribed, in our weekly newsletter there will be resources to help (if interested), documentary, and book suggestions dedicated to exploring climate refugees.
"Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it." - Hebrews 13:1-2