Monday, April 28, 2014

Climate Refugee Problem: In Light of New IPCC Report

The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate change (IPCC) report which was finalized after the five day long conference on 30th March, 2014 deals with the impacts of climate change on human and natural systems, and possible methods of adaptation. The conference was held in Yokohama, Japan. The report says that climate change is a major threat to human security. This would disturb the ecosystem from equator to poles. It talks of “extreme weather events leading to breakdown of…critical services such as electricity, water supply and health and emergency services” and it sounds the alarm about “the breakdown of food systems, linked to warming”. The climate change also raises health concerns. Summer heat waves, sun burn, cold related deaths are all raising an alarming situation. Moreover this would in turn upset the public health and nutrition matter, distribution of access to food and water leading to a huge number of exoduses of migrants.

An important element that gets highlighted by the recent IPCC report is that there large scale human rights impact apprehended due to the climate change catastrophe. The very basic rights such as right to water, right to health, right to housing would be severely hampered. This would lead to large scale exodus of affected people from vulnerable countries. The vulnerability caused by the adverse impact of climate change is causing them to the migrate, both internally with in the country and cross-border migration. In this context, academic literature has tried to further and substantiate the terminology ‘climate refugees’. But even though there has been a persistent attempt from the academic community to highlight the necessity of separate classification of climate refugees, there is total lack of will from the policy makers side. This is reflected in the lack of any legal and policy initiative for the purpose of climate refugees.

The existing international legal framework for refugee protection is at present silent on the aspect of climate refugees. The Refugee Convention, 1951, which is drafted from the Euro-centric perspective and is a product of the post-world war times. Due to this fact the Refugee Convention, 1951 never emphasized upon the protection of refugees due to vulnerable environmental conditions. The Refugee Convention, 1951 scope was limited to that of persons who have fled their country in fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion. Another major hurdle is the lack of consensus amongst states regarding the definition of climate refugee.

Conference of Parties, under the auspices of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change is lacking focus on human rights impact and how causes vulnerability and leads to migration of the adversely affected population. The Inter-governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in its latest report helps us to recognize the alarming situation regarding impact of climate change. Time has come for the international community to take concrete steps in creation of an inclusive legal framework regarding the climate refugees. International community has to reach at a consensus regarding the legal instruments and institutional mechanism by which the climate refugees could be dealt with a right based approach.

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