Roughly one person every second is displaced by a climate- or weather-related disaster and in the last six years, 140.5 million people - two percent of the Earth’s population - has been displaced by such disasters alone. With millions of people forced to move each year by rapid-onset climate-related hazards and slow-onset environmental degradation, social well-being, human rights, economies and even state stability are at risk.
To coincide with UN Human Rights Day, the Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) is highlighting the need for climate change to be viewed through a human rights lens. Climate change is magnifying the existing vulnerabilities of affected communities and eroding their capacity to cope with change. The global community is failing to provide the protection, assistance and access to durable solutions that those on the frontlines of climate change require and deserve.
In a new report released today, ‘Falling through the Cracks’, the EJF examines the various legal and policy frameworks governing climate-induced displacement at the international level. EJF has found that the ‘protection gap’ is more like a series of holes - suggesting the need for a new global framework, which is broad in scope and sensitive to the needs of multiple populations of concern.
The report examines
Protracted displacement following rapid-onset disasters
One of the key gaps is the inadequate assistance provided to displaced populations in the aftermath of extreme climatic events. Absence of sufficient support leaves the worst affected unable to recover and increases their vulnerability to future threats.
Cross-border movements following slow-onset changes
The international community also fails to safeguard those fleeing gradual changes such as rainfall variability and saltwater intrusion. Research shows that slow-onset changes are significant drivers of permanent out-migration. When people move across borders to cope with environmental change - whether to seek employment or as an act of desperation - our international governance systems fail to recognize a key climatic driver of their movement.
Relocation and resettlement
Planned or assisted relocation and resettlement also represents a significant protection gap. Relocation and resettlement programmes are currently undertaken in the absence of rights-based standards. This can make marginalized populations on the fringes of society vulnerable to a whole host of new pressures and abuses.
The starkest protection gap is for ‘sinking island’ states. Under current international governance systems, the submersion or climate-induced collapse of a state has significant implications for human rights, national security and legal sovereignty. Whole populations will be rendered ‘stateless’ - with no territory of their own and no right to be admitted into other countries.
EJF is calling on international bodies to develop precise, legally-worded definitions describing climate-induced displacement as the starting point to seal the cracks in governance frameworks through which millions around the world are falling. We are also campaigning for a mandate of United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and Climate Change in order to consolidate and guide international action on climate-induced displacement.