Climate Refugees

An important eco-film making a debut at this year’s Sundance Film Festival at Utah, USA  is Climate Refugees,”  by Michael Nash  who also directed the critically acclaimed movie on oil and biofuels called “Fuel.”   The festival is running between 21st and 31st of January 2010.

According the movie spotlight by the Sundance Film Festival 2010 which features “Climate Refugees

Climate refugees“If global warming is our planet’s most pressing issue, large-scale population displacement is the human consequence. Massive continental migration is already under way, and diminished natural resources continue to threaten the lives of millions.

The quickly submerging islands of Tuvalu in the South Pacific, drought-affected regions of Sudan, storm-susceptible coastlines of Bangladesh, and rapidly expanding deserts in China are forcing millions to relocate beyond their borders. Who will accept these refugees, and how will they impact their adopted homeland?

Filmmaker Michael Nash spent two years traversing the globe, visiting these and other hot spots where rising sea levels are threatening millions of people’s survival. Strong visuals and potent testimony from the victims of climate change, politicians, scientists, relief organizations, and authors help sound the alarm for instituting new policies and working together to create solutions to cope with this imminent crisis. Climate Refugees fervently captures the human fallout of climate change.”

Here is the movie trailer:


Climate Change reflects the changing reality of a warmer world.  According the report released in June 2009 by CARE , called “In Search of Shelter“  

Estimates of the number of migrants and projections of future numbers are divergent and controversial, ranging from 25 to 50 million by the year 2010-11 to almost 700 million by 2050. IOM (International Organisation of Migration) takes the middleroad with an estimate of 200 million environmentally-induced migrants by 2050.

 With millions getting displaced, at present and most likely in future, it is important for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees  (UNHCR)  to revisit the definition of a Climate Refugee.  Currently under the definition of a refugee, an environmental refugees cannot be granted refugee status under international law.

The Geneva convention defines a refugee as “a person who owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of their nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail him/herself of the protection of that country.” (Wikipedia)

On the other hand:

“Environmental migrants are persons or groups of persons who, for reasons of sudden or progressive changes in the environment that adversely affect their lives or living conditions, are obliged to have to leave their habitual homes, or choose to do so, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their territory or abroad.” (Wikipedia)

However, the UNHCR is reported here (Page 13) as saying, “  While agreeing that the refugee agency was already involved in a limited way in environmental issues and helping internally displaced persons, UNHCR said there were fundamental differences between the two groups.  Refugees could not turn to their own governments for protection because states were often the source of persecution and they therefore needed international assistance, it said, whereas environmental migrants continue to enjoy the same national protection whatever the state of the landscape. Lumping both groups unde the same heading would further cloud the issues and could undermine efforts to help and protect either group and to address the root causes of either type.” 

 According to the report by the International Office of Migration, climate induced migrations are due to severe weather events. It added that environmental disasters, desertification and water pollution are set to increase in frequency as climate change continues.  It also dispels a common myth that the majority of climate refugees will arrive on the doorsteps of developed nations as much of it is internal or cross border migration.

What can I do?

Write to the UNHCR through their Facebook Page to include Climate Refugees in the official definition of a refugee. This will direction resources towards helping the vulnerable millions by helping them adapt to Climate Change.

Take action in your lives – at home, in your community, at your workplace to reduce your footprint on this planet, and never for a moment doubt whether it will make a difference. There are lots of ideas in this website on steps to create these changes, big and small ;  the important thing is to actually take those steps.

Simplify your lives, scale down your consumption of goods, energy, water and resources of the world, and spread the word around. 


Learn more about the Climate Refugee issue here:

1. Tuvalu is a small south-west Pacific island nation with 9 atolls only 1 metre above sea-level.  Here is an impassioned plea by the Minister of the Environment of the Tuvalu government at Copenhagen in December 2009. Seeing a grown adult break down is moving and it conveys a message of  fear, anxiety and the desperation for the world to act, for climate change is such a stark reality for eleven thousand or so inhabitants of the island nation along with millions in this world.

2. UNHCR: The Environment: A Critical Time

3. World Resources Institute : Is it time to recognise Environmental Refugees?

4. International Bar Association : ‘Climate refugees’? Addressing the international legal gaps – Benjamin Glahn

5. Dhaka Twitter: Climate Refugees: The Bangladesh Case  ” There is a great reluctance on the part of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) regarding revision of the definition of refugees to include climate refugees.”

6. Science Daily: Environmental Refugees and Global Warming ” Today, degradation is a serious problem for 32 countries in Africa, and a third of a billion people already face water scarcity. Against this background, it is not surprising that Africa accounts for 12% of the world’s population, hosts around 28% of the world’s refugees and almost 50% of the world’s internally displaced persons.”

7.   Mother Jones article : What happens when your country drowns?


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Posted by on Jan 28 2010. Filed under Climate Change, Climate Change. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

2 Comments for “Climate Refugees”

  1. [...] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Oxfam Scotland, ecowalkthetalk. ecowalkthetalk said: Climate Refugees : A new Eco-movie http://bit.ly/cl7oTr [...]

  2. So-called environmentally induced migration is multi-level problem. According to Essam El-Hinnawi definition form 1985 environmental refugees as ―those people who have been forced to leave their traditional habitat, temporarily or permanently, because of a marked environmental disruption (natural or triggered by people) that jeopardised their existence and/or seriously affected the quality of their life. The fundamental distinction between `environmental migrants` and `environmental refugees` is a standpoint of contemporsry studies in EDPs.

    According to Bogumil Terminski it seems reasonable to distinguish the general category of environmental migrants from the more specific (subordinate to it) category of environmental refugees.

    Environmental migrants, therefore, are persons making a short-lived, cyclical, or longerterm change of residence, of a voluntary or forced character, due to specific environmental factors. Environmental refugees form a specific type of environmental migrant.

    Environmental refugees, therefore, are persons compelled to spontaneous, short-lived, cyclical, or longer-term changes of residence due to sudden or gradually worsening changes in environmental factors important to their living, which may be of either a short-term or an irreversible character

    There have been a number of attempts over the decades to enumerate ‘environmental migrants/ refugees’. Jodi Jacobson (1988) is cited as the first researcher to enumerate the issue, stating that there were already up to 10 million ‘Environmental Refugees’. Drawing on ‘worst case scenarios’ about sea-level rise, she argued that all forms of ‘Environmental Refugees’ would be six times as numerous as political refugees. (1988: 38).[5] By 1989, Mustafa Tolba, Executive Director of UNEP, was claiming that ‘as many as 50 million people could become environmental refugees’ if the world did not act to support sustainable development (Tolba 1989: 25).In 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 1990: 20) declared that the greatest single consequence of climate change could be migration, ‘with millions of people displaced by shoreline erosion, coastal flooding and severe drought’ (Warner & Laczko: 2008: 235). In the mid-1990s, Norman Myers became the most prominent proponent of this ‘maximalist’ school (Suhrke 1993), stating that there were 25 million environmental refugees in the mid-1990s, and claiming that this figure could double by 2010, with an upper limit of 200 million by 2050 (Myers 1997).[8] Myers argued that the causes of environmental displacement would include desertification, lack of water, salination of irrigated lands and the depletion of bio-diversity. He also hypothesised that displacement would amount to 30m in China, 30m in India, 15m in Bangladesh, 14m in Egypt, 10m in other delta areas and coastal zones, 1m in island states, and with otherwise agriculturally displaced people totalling 50m (Myers & Kent 1995) by 2050. More recently, Myers has suggested that the figure by 2050 might be as high as 250 million (Christian Aid 2007: 6)

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