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Climate Change, urban futures, and the gendering of cities in South Asia


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Examining the relationship between climate change and urbanisation, we show how climate change risks in urban South Asia disproportionately affect the livelihoods, health and wellbeing of the poor, especially women; how they entrenchdisplacement and precarity; and how extreme heat, water scarcity, pollution and dust impact their lives, health and livelihoods. Download here:
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Climate Justice and Migration
Mobili, Development, and Displacement
in the Global South
Edited by Ali Nobil Ahmad and the Heinrich Böll Foundation
Climate Justice and Migration
Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the
Global South
Edited by Ali Nobil Ahmad and the Heinrich Böll Foundation
Climate Justice and Migration: Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
Volume 57 of the Publication Series on Democracy
Edited by Ali Nobil Ahmad and the Heinrich Böll Foundation
Concept and editing: Ali Nobil Ahmad and Kirsten Maas-Albert
Copy Editor: Robert Furlong
Design: feinkost Designnetzwerk, Constantin Mawrodiew (derivation design by State Design)
Printing: ARNOLD group, Großbeeren
Title photo: Rising sea levels uproot a tree in Pigeon Point beach, Tobago. © Dizzanne Billy
(the Venezualian interviewee from «Care work, Climate work»)
ISBN 978-3-86928-223-7
Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung, Schumannst raße 8, 10117 Berlin,
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Some of the contributions in t his publication were presented at «Climate Justice and Migration»,
a workshop jointly organized by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the Leibniz-Zentrum
Moderner Orient on 26-27th November, 2019.
Foreword 7
Preface and Introduction 9
Avidan Kent and Simon Behrman
Mind the gap:
Addressing the plight of climate refugees in international law 21
Natalie Sauer
«Care work, climate work»:
A dialogue with Dizzanne Billy (Trinidad and Tobago),
Oladosu Adenike (Nigeria) and Joyce Melcar Tan (Philippines) 43
Hashim bin Rashid
Resisting rural dispossession and displacement:
Peasant pathways to climate justice 52
Nausheen H. Anwar and Malini Sur
Climate change, urban futures, and the gendering of cities in South Asia 66
Celia Mc Michael
Health and mobility in climate change adaptation:
The importance of well-being in a warming world 80
Paolo Gaibazzi
Can migration from West Africa be prevented by climate-resilient agriculture?
Lessons in im /mobility from rural Gambia 95
Ana Naomi de Sousa
«What makes us resist is the land itself»
An interview with Erileide Domingues, Brazil 110
Tristen Taylor and Delme Cupido
Drought in the Northern Cape, South Africa:
How climate change turned a small town into a permanent refugee camp 118
Natalie Sauer
Questioning the «poster child» cliché:
Mobility and attachment in the Pacific island of Palau 125
Christiane Fröhlich
Mobility and climate justice in the Mashriq 138
Arne Harms
Under the climate radar:
Disaster and displacement in the Bengal Delta 150
About the Authors 157
Abbreviations 160
e climate crisis is the greatest threat confronting humanity today. Its devastating
implications for peace and security, human rights, health and ecological sustain-
ability are already being felt across the planet. Every day, millions of people all over
the world are witnessing the destruction of their homes and livelihoods. For them,
the climate crisis manifests itself as desertication and crop failure, soil salinity
and water scarcity, oods and deadly heat waves. It has compounded hunger and
poverty and, as a result, exacerbated conict and displacement.
In many ways, the climate crisis is a crisis of global justice: Although industri-
alised countries such as Germany have contributed to today’s global warming far
more than their counterparts in the Global South, the latter will bear the brunt of its
harshest consequences. Within the Global South, in turn, it is the most vulnerable
groups that suer most: those dependent on natural resources for their subsistence
and livelihoods; those with least ability to protect themselves or adapt women,
children, Indigenous people and other marginalised populations. As a result, the
climate crisis acts as a multiplier of existing injustices, with a tendency to amplify
conicts, and to further undermine fundamental human rights such as the right to
food, water, shelter, education, and health; the right to dignity, and to life itself.
Already today, the climate crisis is causing immeasurable damage to homelands,
community structures, and cultural heritage, threatening traditions and ways of life
that are thousands of years old. According to the Platform on Disaster Displacement,
an estimated 25 to 30 million people were displaced by climate-related disasters
every year between 2008 and 2017.
Currently, there are more internally displaced people as a result of environmental
disasters than of violence and conict. It is challenging, if not impossible, to pre-
dict with any great precision how many people will be forced out of their homes in
the context of the climate crisis. e World Bank estimates that 140 million people
will be displaced by 2050 in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia and South America alone.
However, one thing is certain: We need to gather more data and support research
on climate-induced displacement, and thereby close the gaps in our knowledge as
much as possible otherwise, just policies will be even more dicult to design than
they are at present. It is time to treat the topic with the seriousness it merits and
to make it a key priority for governments around the world. It is a globally shared
responsibility to drastically limit the harmful eects of human activity on the global
climate, and to respond to the unfolding humanitarian crises that result from it.
Berlin, November 2020
Claudia Roth, Vicepresident of the German Bundestag
Preface and Introduction
Amidst the upheaval caused by the ongoing global health crisis, much of what we
thought we knew about policymaking has been called into question. Above all,
the assumption that growth-oriented societies cannot be radically altered in short
spans of time has been rendered demonstrably false. For all the misery wrought
by the devastating spread of Covid-19, the rapidity and radical extent of societal
response has been a powerful lesson in the capacity and willingness of humans to
change behaviour.
It is, of course, too early to talk about positives. If anything, a more anxious
world of tighter borders, in which states subject citizens and foreigners to ever-
harsher forms of surveillance, could be taking shape. And yet, in political terms,
the pandemic has managed what scores of avowedly progressive politicians have
proven incapable of doing for most of the previous decade. It has exposed the emp-
tiness of ag-waiving populism and, alongside the terrible killing of George Floyd
in Minneapolis, drawn attention to social and racial inequality and injustice.
What does this mean for policy-relevant research on climate change and migra-
tion? e events of 2020 have reminded us that new scenarios and information can
spur individuals, groups and institutions to view and act dierently on matters of
longstanding concern. Indeed, the Black Lives Matter protests suggest the presenta-
tion of old information in new ways can be sucient to trigger reconsideration of
age-old systemic cruelties. Scholarship and journalism targeting the mainstream,
it follows, need not concede the centre ground to outmoded ideas that appear
immovable for no reason other than their prior hegemony. Now is a time to propose
alternative ways of understanding and legislating to address issues that have been
ignored or narrowly framed in the past; to advance new modes of thinking (and
unthinking), particularly those that emerge from the experiences and advocacy of
individuals, groups, organisations and social movements located at the peripheries.
e writings compiled in this volume provide fresh perspectives on the subject
of climate justice and mobility by leading scholars, experts, activists and journalists
across a range of formats and genres. Its geographic and thematic scope is broad,
with coverage of Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean across a range of
scales and topics spanning health and socio-economic development to law and pol-
itics. In methodological terms, the approaches deployed encompass anthropolog-
ical observation, legal analysis, sociological inquiry and journalistic investigation.
Scholarly jargon has been avoided, but the overall terminological framing
requires two brief comments. Firstly, the term «mobility» is preferred over widely
used alternatives, a choice that seeks to disassociate our object of study from
some of the baggage that comes with bureaucratic classications. Legal issues are
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
crucial, and the question of «climate refugees» is addressed at length in the pages
that follow (Kent and Behrman). But so too are many other scenarios of climate-in-
duced movement and sedentariness not recognised by law or policy. Mobility a
capacious concept encapsulating all types of migration and immobility allows for
consideration of diverse phenomena within a single analytical framework.
Secondly, the title makes reference to climate «justice» (rather than climate
change). is is indicative of an ethical commitment to life, livelihoods and strug-
gles against inequality. Lest this normative orientation be construed as idealistic, it
is worth making the point that public investment in welfare should not be assumed
to be more expensive than mantras that prioritise productivity and eciency. As
will be seen in the pages that follow, justice is neither a luxurious extravagance
nor a question of morality. Rather, it is a rational response to the challenges of cli-
mate-induced mobility. If we have learnt one thing of relevance to climate change
in 2020, it is that when it comes to the health and wellbeing of mobile and immo-
bile humanity beyond our own households, tribes, nations and borders, we are all
«Climate refugees»
How did migration a basic fact of human history come to be viewed as a pathol-
ogy that threatens the security and integrity of nation-states? A fulsome answer to
this question is beyond the scope of this introduction. Suce it to say, the instincts
and ideas that drive migration policies in Europe stem predominantly from
narrowly dened concerns about «security», «terrorism», and dubiously conceived
threats to Western culture («the European way of life»).1 at such concerns are not
necessarily rational is apparent from the disproportionate anxiety over numbers,
welfare burdens, and the supposed criminal threats presented by mobile popula-
tions from Asia and Africa. From Hungary to the United Kingdom, democratic elec-
tions and referenda can be won and lost on the basis of race-based majoritarian
fears of demographic change («e Great [white] Replacement»).2
Having entered popular consciousness independently of global heating, migra-
tion discourse rarely makes explicit reference to climate change. However, with
growing awareness among electorates about the impending threat of environmen-
tal catastrophe and species extinction, the ecological crisis is becoming increas-
ingly enmeshed with alarmism over immigration. is is particularly evident in the
realm of policymaking, where the convergence of these issues can be traced back
1 In 2019, «Protecting the European way of life» was made the responsibility of the EU's most
senior migration official, EU Commission Vice President Margaritis Schinas.
2 For an interesting discussion of this idea and its origins, see Polakow-Suransky, S., and Widlman,
S. (2019, March 18), «The Inspiration for Terrorism in New Zealand Came from France», Foreign
Policy , available at:
identitarians-white-nationalism (accessed 1 September 2020).
Preface and Introduction
to the early 1990s, when American strategists were assessing threats to Western
security in a post-Cold War world.3
It is no coincidence that the legal rights of climate refugees within the interna-
tional order remain underdeveloped (see Kent and Behrman, this volume). Invo-
cations of this category can obfuscate the complex, multidimensional relationship
between human motion and ecosystems, serving as a vehicle for climate-reduc-
tionism that downplays the role of political and social inequalities that shape and
direct mobility and immobility (see Fröhlich, this volume).4 As can be seen in some
of the cruder recent attempts to quantify and/or inappropriately foreground the role
of environmental factors in generating the Syrian uprising and subsequent refugee
«crisis» in Europe, attempts to link climate change with conict can be motivated
by calls for securitisation of borders rather than protective rights for migrants.
«Adaptation» and «resilience»
«Adaptation», a widely used term in policy documents since the 2010s, oers a
more hopeful, optimistic outlook than the alarmist, pessimistic discourses of envi-
ronmental apocalypse. It focuses on the livelihoods of migrants and increasingly
accepts the inevitability of mobility as an economic strategy that will ensure their
survival under worsening climate change.5 It is also more attuned to what histo-
rians of migration are at pains to emphasise: Environmental migration is neither
new, nor necessarily born of crisis (see Gaibazzi, this volume). Part of traditional
livelihood strategies, it has been stigmatised by colonial and post-colonial states,
which have criminalised the mobility of pastoralists and tribes in a bid to modern-
ise agriculture and promote private property.6
at being said, this volume treats with suspicion policy articulations of «adap-
tation» that put a dangerously laissez-faire, fatalistic emphasis on «disaster prepar-
edness» that gives up on prevention and mitigation while refusing to countenance
resource redistribution. When invoked alongside calls for «resilience», the unwar-
ranted optimism of such calls for adaptation serves as an ideological justication
for leaving «surplus humanity» to its own fate as climate change intensies. Ha-
ving risen to prominence in a world rocked by three decades of economic deregu-
lation across a range of policy elds, its language of survival narrows life to coping
3 Kaplan, R. (1994), «The Coming Anarchy», The Atlantic , available at:
magazine/archive/1994/02/the-coming-anarchy/304670 (accessed 23 September 2020).
4 A 2019 special issue of the journal Mobilities (vol. 14, nr. 3) conceptualising climate migration
as «mobility in the anthropocene» contains several extensive critiques.
5 Warner, K. (2012), «Human Migration and Displacement in the Context of Adaptation to Cli-
mate Change: The Cancun Adaptation Framework and Potential for Future Action», Environ-
ment and Planning C 30(6), 1061–77.
6 Fahrenhorst, B. (2019, November 26–27), «Forced Migration As a Result of the Collapse of the
Traditional Climate-resilient Rural Livelihoods in African Drylands», workshop paper pre-
sented at «Climate Justice and Migration: Mobility, Development and Displacement in the
Global South», a collaboration between Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung and Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner
Orient, Berlin.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
and/or barely subsisting, with responsibility for provision of resources, funds and
support foisted on aected individuals and groups.7
In many respects, «the resilient subject» is no less of an abstraction than the
trope of the climate refugee. Both are products of an imagination than cannot
envisage a world order of mobility other than the current regime. Where the climate
refugee terries the West with the prospect of turning up on its doorstep, the resil-
ient subject remains «emplaced», bearing responsibility for his/her own continued
existence at the planetary peripheries. In doing so, he/she absolves the consciences,
treasuries and taxpayers in auent, carbon-intensive societies, regions and social
classes of any obligations that might stem from feelings of common humanity, or
indeed a sense of justice stemming from the fact that their need to be «resilient» is
rarely a result of their own lifestyles and activities.8
Like many pessimists who warn of impending socio-political breakdown, opti-
mistic proponents of «resilience» cannot imagine a world order in which resources
and power are distributed dierently to the one that has produced ecological crisis.
Rarely, if ever, do they make reference to the political economy of unequal land
distribution. Framing climate-induced mobility in Malthusian terms, resilience
serves as an emblem of the status quo's post-apocalyptic survival. (It is the migrant
who must «adapt», not the system that displaces him/her.) And just as climate-
reductionist alarmism makes no mention of the complex, manifold factors that
cause and drive resource-conict and displacement, those who assess the conse-
quences of mobility through adaptation atten them into a single dimension: the
economy. As at least one contribution to this volume (McMichael) argues, the idea
of «adaptation» is too often deployed narrowly, in a way that does not encompass
health and wellbeing.
At its most sordid, climate-change «adaptation» promoted by government, in-
ternational agencies and market-obsessed organisations can be synonymous with
strategies that prioritise prots rather than people. As such, it functions as a kind
of green, anticipatory «disaster capitalism», which can have perverse impacts on
mobility, for instance by driving up land prices in urban areas to the extent that
relocation to cities becomes unaordable (see Sauer's essay on Palau, this volume),
or negatively aecting the livelihoods of rural populations, for instance by promot-
ing new kinds of export-oriented farming in coastal areas that undermines tradi-
tional modes of shing (see Anwar and Sur, this volume).
Climate justice: Broadening the framework
e existential threat confronting tiny populations of Pacic Islands such as
Kiribati and Tuvalu represents one of the most direct, visible, and dramatic types
of climate-induced migration. Many such populations, whose carbon emissions
7 Diprose, K. (2014), «Resilience Is Futile: The Cultivation of Resilience Is Not an Answer to Aus-
terity and Poverty», Soundings 58, 44–56.
8 Evans, B., and Reid, J. (2013), Dangerously Exposed: The Life and Death of the Resilient Sub-
ject, Resilience 1(2), 83–98.
Preface and Introduction
are negligible, have already incurred extensive loss and damages due to extreme
weather events. Understandably, the grim prospect of their submergence beneath
the sea has ensured that the plight of small island states gures prominently in
political and media discourse about the far-reaching migratory implications of
climate change. Several of the best-researched territories have eectively become
«poster children» of campaigns for mitigation and/or planned relocation.
Without detracting from the very real prospect of their disappearance under
water in coming decades, Natalie Sauer's report in this volume on the less studied
island of Palau sheds light on the complex nature of lived experience in such set-
tings, which is more internally varied and mediated by socio-economic dierence
than generally assumed. Far from a generalised portrayal of desperation to escape,
we encounter individuals and communities still wedded to staying put, some of
whom are still arriving as immigrants. Of those who do wish to emigrate, many
seek to relocate internally rather than internationally, in accordance with dis-
tinct capacities and social networks. Pathways are shaped and mediated by social
class, gentrication, and disputatious property relations as much as by extreme
«natural» events such as hurricanes if not more than.
Broadening the temporal scope of what we understand as climate-induced
mobility to encompass slow-onset forms of displacement is essential for a compre-
hensive, justice-based international response. Currently, the plights of those whose
woes accrue over lesser velocities for instance, as a result of coastal erosion that
forces migration in small, incremental steps are accorded little attention. As
Harms' investigation in this volume on marginality in the Bengal Delta shows, dis-
placement can begin with moving to a dierent part of one's own land in the rst
instance, and continue to unfold over several years before causing actual reloca-
tion. e consequences for individuals for slow displacements such as these can
be equally if not more devastating than temporary trauma resulting from disasters,
because land lost to the sea can never be regained and is rarely compensated.
Development and urbanisation
e diculty of disentangling environmental factors from the multiple drivers of
internal displacement and rural-to-urban migration is often acute. It makes little
sense, for instance, to devise policy to combat climate-induced migration without
addressing the larger question of its relationship with economic development.
Agricultural modernisation and urbanisation present two particularly important
factors that already shape the mobility of populations in the Global South. Given
the colossal scale of historic and contemporary dislocation caused by resource
extraction, land acquisitions by corporations and governments, and infrastructure
projects such as economic corridors in rural areas,9 policies that seek to «emplace»
9 This latest bid to attack migration's «root cause» is not unprecedented. For an early critique,
see Thorburn, J. (1996), «Root Cause Approaches to Forced Migration: Part of a Comprehensive
Strategy? A European Perspective», Journal of Refugee Studies 9(2), 119–35.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
migrants by engaging them in farming or targeting «root causes» seem wishful (see
Gaibazzi, this volume).10 As for those who seek to migrate voluntarily, they have
been ushered towards cities by the economic system itself at breakneck speed since
at least the 1980s.
A more sensible approach to attempting to discourage migration through de-
velopment would be to consider what some rural and Indigenous communities
have been demanding through their own representatives and leaders on the world
stage and at the local level for several decades (see bin Rashid, de Sousa, this
volume): land redistribution, the retention (or adoption) of peasant identity, and
livelihood strategies based on sustainable farming and attachment to place. Here-
in lies the dierence between the top-down «comprehensive approach» to restrict-
ing mobility through tried, tested and failed models of development on the one
hand, and on the other a climate justice-based empowerment of rural populations
that acknowledges their right to live in dignity on the land they steward. Unlike the
former, the latter recognises the sovereignty, traditions, knowledge and cosmolo-
gies of the peasantry as being central to the sustainability of a global food system
upon which we all depend.
Not that everyone in the Global South wants to be a farmer, of course. Empow-
ering those who wish to stay put cannot be an exercise in social engineering or
coercive de-urbanisation based on reied notions of the peasantry.11 Climate-in-
duced migration in the Global South is equally a question of governance in cit-
ies which are likely to be on the frontlines when extreme weather events result in
massive displacement. Where nation-states tend towards border fortication to
protect abstract and territorial space from outsiders, localities, neighbourhoods
and cities are sites of struggle for climate and mobility justice in which public
participation, grassroots initiatives, inclusive provisioning and mobilisation can
provide the basis of solidarity that counters xenophobia and racism.12
Yet cities lack the political power, autonomy and resources of nation-states. In
cities, as in rural domains, there is no easy way to separate the suering caused
by global warming from the workings of a system that has normalised displace-
ment, disenfranchisement and precarity among the poor, many of whom are
rural migrants living at the urban-rural interface in peripheral zones of cities
where public service provision is minimal or absent. Part of the problem stems
from the unplanned nature of Asian and African cities, where the bulk of rural-
to-urban migration results in informal settlement, both in mega cities and more
recent, spontaneously formed urban conglomerations, which receive less funding
10 See bin Rashid, this volume, and Sassen, S. (2014), Expulsions (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Uni-
versity Press).
11 For a discussion, see Edelman, M. (2013), «What Is a Peasant? What Are Peasantaries?», a brief-
ing paper on issues of definition (New York, NY: Hunter College, Graduate Centre), available
at: (accessed 1 Sep-
tember 2020).
12 Turhan, E., and Armeiero, M. (2019), «Of (Not) Being Neighbors: Cities, Citizens and Climate
Change in an Age of Migrations», Mobilities 14(3), 363–74.
Preface and Introduction
than their larger, more powerful metropolitan counterparts. e other part of the
problem is that planning itself in so far as it does exist is subordinate to power-
ful agendas and regimes of urban development that, like their rural equivalents,
systematically uproot the poor, whose residences and economic activities are
routinely displaced and destroyed to make way for gentried housing enclaves,
infrastructure and commercial buildings. In South Asia, the poor are equally, if
not more likely, to face ruin by bulldozers than weather events. ose who evade
eviction cannot escape the negative health consequences of global heating, which,
when combined with dirty industry, road traffic, slash-and-burn agriculture
and construction, results in dwindling access to water, suocating levels of atmos-
pheric toxicity and alarming increases in temperature in densely populated areas
(see Anwar and Sur, this volume).
Many of the worst aected by these increasingly dicult conditions in cities
are migrant workers from rural areas who have eectively moved into zones of
climate risk (see McMichael, this volume). is underlines the importance of
understanding climate-induced mobility as part of a broader ecology of motion, in
which those who ee disasters are just one of the many constituencies aected
by climate change. Others include those who might otherwise migrate but have be-
come trapped (involuntarily immobile) or suspended by other contextual factors
in zones of climate risk. e contribution by Taylor and Cupido to this volume, for
instance, considers a curious case of «displacement in place» (or «dis-placement»)
in South Africa, where economically devastated farming communities in the
Northern Cape have entered a condition of dependency on state disbursements
that makes migration to cities unlikely. e authors use the term «refugee camp» in
a non-legal, sociological sense to refer to the dwellings of this population, whose
locality has been dramatically diminished, resulting in downward social mobility
and severe mental and physical health risks.13
Care work, climate work: Towards a new realism
Germany is leading calls for global warming to be taken seriously at the highest
echelons of world power, using its chairmanship of the United Nations Security
Council to push for urgent attention to the impacts of climate change on peace and
security. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas commissioned a comprehensive report
to be published in 2022 on climate security risks at the second Berlin Climate
and Security Conference in 2019. Its objective to identify concrete policy solutions
that will enhance the capacity of states to deal with climate-induced disasters, for
instance by creating early warning mechanisms, is laudable and welcomed as an
important point of departure for research and policy.
13 For a useful scholarly discussion of «displacement in place», see Lubkemann, S. (2008), «Invol-
untary Immobility: On a Theoretical Invisibility in Migration Studies», Journal of Refugee Stud-
ies 21(4), 454–75.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
For the report to yield significant improvements in climate and mobility
governance, however, it must endeavour to be a starting point for discussions on
climate change that go beyond security, taking on board the concerns of civil so-
ciety and the many constituencies that represent the populations which stand to
lose most from global heating: organisations such as the International Organiza-
tion for Migration (IOM) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
(UNHCR), which can and must cooperate to create better mechanisms of response
to deal with the migratory fallouts of global warming.14is volume makes a case
for legislation and funding to target specic groups and problems relating to
climate-induced mobility, with the caveat that additional forms and layers of
support for displaced persons must supplement and build upon not replace
existing rights and protections (see Kent and Behrman, this volume).
At the same time, policymaking must stretch its framework of concer n to address
the myriad ways in which individuals and groups move and stay put in relation to
changing ecologies. Doing so entails loosening the imaginative grip of tropes and
archetypes that result in a disproportionate focus of attention and resources upon
a handful of displacement situations, and neglect of many others. What we need is
a comprehensive raft of policies and reforms across a range of spheres and scales
policies that take shape from listening to a wider array of experts and voices. Some
of those closest to the ground will want to change the very basis of discussion to
talk about issues that go beyond extreme weather, pointing out that it makes little
sense to make arrangements for refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs)
without addressing the incongruities of a system that displaces millions without
help from «nature» (see bin Rashid, de Sousa, this volume).
Faced with the threat of climate change, policymaking has responded with fear
of climate refugees and/or callous complacency about their resilience to adapt to
appalling scenarios. At their most cynical, such perspectives breed an ugly, selsh
survivalism that prioritises stockpiling to preserve environmental privilege the
geopolitical equivalent of hoarding toilet paper during a pandemic. Which brings
us back, full circle, to lessons of the ongoing health crisis.
As noted in the conversation between three young activists from Asia, Africa
and the Caribbean engaged in bringing about environmental change (see Sauer,
this volume), care work is climate work and must be acknowledged as such.15
Part of this recognition consists of ensuring that care systems are robust and t
for purpose. Equally, however, a change in cultural perception must occur, as
feminists have been saying for some time. Quite apart from esteeming care work
for its nobility and spiritual value, care is emerging as a core tenet of a new, post-
pandemic realism that understands the role of justice and welfare as essential lines
14 Lakeman, S. (2019, November 26–27), «UNHCR and IOM: Mandates and Cooperation in Re-
lation to Environmental Displacement», workshop paper presented at «Climate Justice and
Migration: Mobility, Development and Displacement in the Global South», a collaboration
between Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung and Leibniz-Zentrum Moderner Orient, Berlin.
15 For a broader discussion of climate work as care work featuring Naomi Klein, see: https://lives- (accessed 1 September 2020).
Preface and Introduction
of defence against the ravages of ecological instability. Care, justice, and coopera-
tion are not utopian delusions. ey are the basis of human survival in the Anthro-
pocene, an era in which chauvinistic posturing, cynical isolationism and brash
boasts of control that promise to put autochthonous populations «rst» are being
swept away by the increasingly undeniable realities of interdependency between
and among humans and other species, and the terrifying limits of our grip over
Ali Nobil Ahmad and Kirsten Maas-Albert
Photo: © Tristen Taylor
A springbok's carcass on a sheep and game farm near Strydenburg,
a small town in the semi-arid Karoo region of Northern Cape,
where livestock farming has been devastated by protracted drought
Avidan Kent and Simon Behrman Mind the gap: Addressing the plight of climate refugees in international law
Mind the gap:
Addressing the plight of climate
refugees in international law
e often gradual and diuse nature of climate change can obscure many of its
more devastating eects. But for those forced from their homes as a result of sea-
level rise, desertication or increased and more severe extreme weather events, the
eects of climate change are already causing acute trauma. From the thousands
who lost their homes during the Australian bush res in the summer of 2019/2020,
to the tens of thousands of Pacic Islanders whose habitable land is dramatically
shrinking every year, to the hundreds of thousands being forced to migrate annu-
ally as a result of desertication in North Africa and Central America, the eects
are not merely speculation about what may occur in the future.
e relative speed with which climate change is forcing increasing numbers of
people to seek a life elsewhere has so far not been met with a matching urgency in
devising just alternatives for them. Indeed, the legal constraints on cross-border
movement appear to be hardening almost everywhere. Yet, the picture is not as
bleak as it may at rst appear. Behind the headlines, and often in piecemeal fash-
ion, legal concepts and pathways are being developed. ese are sporadic and often
inadequate, but nonetheless they represent steps forward, at least in terms of recog-
nising that the problem exists. In this chapter, we shine a light on just a few of these
developments and suggest ways in which they can be built upon to produce more
eective protections and remedies for climate refugees.
A note on terminology
Before commencing, we would like to make a brief clarication regarding the ter-
minology used here. Few terms have been as hotly debated as «climate refugees».
Denitions of each of its components «climate» and «refugees» have been exten-
sively contested, and a myriad of alternatives are being used by academics, civil
servants and policymakers. e reader should be aware that there is no consensus
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
on any denition: ere are even those who object to any distinction between dif-
ferent types of refugees/migrants, regardless of the cause of movement.1
We advocate in favour of the term «climate refugees».2 e reader should be
aware, however, that our choice is controversial and that other terms including
«climate-induced migration», «environmental displacement» or even the obscure/
watered-down «disaster displacement» are often preferred. In brief, our view is
that the prex «climate» (as opposed to, say, «environmental», «disaster», etc.) en-
ables a focus on the specic causes and features of climate change. In particular,
there is now a substantial body of scientic evidence that not only demonstrates
climate change is man-made, but also identies the guilty parties. In the context
of this discussion, this is important in identifying who is responsible for mitigating
the eects on people displaced as a result, and for putting in place the necessary
protection regime.
e choice of the term «refugee» is particularly contentious, and we have chosen
it after careful deliberation. Opposition to its use in the context of climate change
comes largely from refugee lawyers who argue (correctly) that the main instrument
of international refugee law does not apply in the absence of persecution. is lim-
itation is discussed in detail below. However, in essence we argue that the narrow
denition found in the 1951 Refugee Convention, which denes as a «refugee» only
someone who cannot return to their home countries due to a well-founded fear
of persecution «for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particu-
lar social group or political opinion»,3 should not monopolise our understanding
of the term «refugee»; that indeed alternative understandings of this term exist
(including in international law4); and that a 70-year-old legal denition should not
stop the development of this term, especially in the context of new challenges, such
as the eects of climate change.
Moreover, the term «refugee» carries with it a power and a set of associations,
beyond that of a single legal denition, which makes it an appropriate one to apply
to people forced to leave their homes. It suggests that people who have been forced
to abandon their homes and seek refuge are distinct from those who make a more
or less free choice, as is common with migrants in general. It also strongly implies a
need for protection, which links back to our central argument about responsibility,
1 See, for example, UK Government (2011), Foresight: Migration and Global Environmental
Change , final project report (London: Government Office for Science), p. 11, available at: https://
2 For a much more detailed exposition of our argument, see Kent, A., and Behrman, S. (2018),
Facilitating the Resettlement and Rights of Climate Refugees: An Argument for Developing Exist-
ing Principles and Practices (Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge), Chapter 2.
3 Article 1(A)2, Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 28 July 1951, United Nations,
Treaty Series, vol. 189, p. 137.
4 See, for example, UNRWA's definition of «Palestinian Refugees» (available at:
palestine-refugees); the Fourth Geneva Convention's treatment of the term «war refugees»; the
African Union's 1967 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in
Africa; and the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees.
Avidan Kent and Simon Behrman Mind the gap: Addressing the plight of climate refugees in international law
in both legal and moral terms, for granting access across borders and providing the
necessary nancial support to enable those aected to rebuild their lives.
Although some object that «refugee» implies «victims» or other negative con-
notations, our response is twofold. First, the images created of all types of migrants
have been degraded in the public consciousness in recent years. Second, it is pos-
sible to resist that negativity better by referring to «refugees» rather than alterna-
tives such as «migrants» and «displaced persons». Historically, refugees were both
active and heroic gures think of those who escaped 19th century despotisms in
Europe, or the mid-20th century dictatorships. e root meaning of the word5
of people seeking asylum suggests active subjects in a way that is absent in the
widely used descriptor «displaced».
In short, we believe that «climate refugee» captures many of the dening ele-
ments of the phenomenon certainly better than the alternatives and enables us
to better identify the needs of people who are forced from their homes, and who is
responsible for addressing their plight. Yet, whatever nomenclature one may choose
to describe this phenomenon, it does not change three fundamental facts.
First, those having to migrate due to climate change are not dened as «refu-
gees» under the 1951 Refugee Convention, and therefore do not enjoy the protec-
tions that come with this legal status. We elaborate more on this point in the second
part of this chapter (see «Mitigation and adaptation»).
Second, climate change is a driver for migration, even if it can be, on many
occasions, dicult to distinguish from other causes of migration.6 e issue of cli-
mate refugees must therefore be addressed primarily7 within the wider political
and scientic context of climate change.
ird, and most importantly, those having to leave their homes due to the
eects of climate change are vulnerable; they require protection, which interna-
tional law does not currently fully provide. is third element the gaps in the
regulations and the failure of international law to protecting climate refugees is
the focus of this chapter.
5 The term «refugee» is derived from the French verb se réfugier , which means to seek shelter
from danger; it was first applied to persecuted French Protestants, who fled to England and the
Netherlands in the 16th and 17th centuries.
6 See the discussion on causality in the section «The double problem of causality» below.
7 This is not to say that this topic should not be addressed in other forums (e.g. human rights
frameworks) as well. The argument here is that climate change debates and negotiations must
view climate-induced migration as part and parcel of the wider climate context and as a phe-
nomenon that must be addressed within this debate.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
Defining the «legal hole»
What kind of protection should the law provide for climate refugees? ere are
three types of laws, or three objectives that the law must achieve in order to provide
a comprehensive solution to the plight of climate refugees:8
(1) e law should provide protection for climate refugees' most fundamental rights.
(2) e law must facilitate adaptation and mitigation policies that will reduce
(or even eliminate) the risks that are faced by climate refugees.
(3) e law should enable access to remedies for refugees, as well as for other rele-
vant entities (e.g. refugees' host states).
e following review addresses these three categories. e vulnerability of climate
refugees in each situation is discussed, as well as the relevant legal framework that
is available to them. e reader will notice that our classication is not rigid, and
that dierent elements related to protection, mitigation and remedies indeed often
Protecting rights under international law
e vulnerability of migrants and refugees has been acknowledged by the interna-
tional community on numerous occasions, including in the context of climate-in-
duced migration.9 A Discussion Paper drafted by the Mary Robinson Foundation
identied how the act of climate migration might interfere with the enjoyment of
fundamental rights, such as the right to culture, work, water, food, housing, access
to land, self-determination, freedom of movement and, in the more extreme cases,
also the rights to life, liberty and freedom from torture.10 e UN Oce of the
United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) added to this list
other rights, including to sanitation, social security, education, the prohibition of
collective expulsion, personal integrity, family unity and eective legal status.11
Certain groups and individuals have demanded protection of these rights
under dierent international fora. In an (unsuccessful) petition made by Inuit
8 Our categories are based on but slightly different from Kälin and Schrepfer's categories
(mitigation, adaptation and protection); see Kälin, W., and Schrepfer, N. (2012), «Protecting
People Crossing Borders in the Context of Climate Change Normative Gaps and Possible
Approaches» (UNHCR Legal and Protection Policy Research Series), available at: www.unhcr.
9 See inter alia the New York Declaration for Refugees and Migrants, the two Global Compacts,
the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and more.
10 Mary Robinson Foundation (2016, September 30), «Human Rights, Migration and Displacement
Related to the Adverse Impact of Climate Change», discussion paper, available at: www.ohchr.
11 OHCHR (2018, June 18–July 6), Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human
Rights , Human Rights Council Thirty-eighth session, A/HRC/38/21, available at: https://undocs.
Avidan Kent and Simon Behrman Mind the gap: Addressing the plight of climate refugees in international law
communities to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the petitioners
complained that the actions of polluting states (the United States in this case) were
leading to climatic changes in the Arctic region. It was claimed that these changes
were aecting these communities' ability to sustain their traditional ways of life,
interfering with their ability to enjoy their rights to culture, a healthy environment,
property (including intellectual property), health, life and more.12
In a dierent petition (pending at the time of writing) that was submitted by
a group of children/teenagers (including the well-known activist Greta unberg)
under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, it has been argued that climate
change is creating «mass migrations»,13 and that certain islands «could become
uninhabitable within decades».14 e petitioners argue with respect to their right
to culture that rising sea levels will eventually «decimate indigenous cultures,
including those of the indigenous petitioners […]».15 With respect to the right to life,
the petitioners state that «increasingly hot temperatures are threatening their
thousand-year-old subsistence traditions, which are intimately connected to their
livelihoods and wellbeing».16
In another (pending) communication submitted to the UN Human Rights
Committee by communities from the Torres Strait Islands, it has been claimed that
climate change is «causing regular ooding of land and homes, damaging impor-
tant cultural sites located on the edges of islands», and is predicted to result in the
«total submergence of ancestral homelands».17 e Islanders therefore claim that
Australia's inaction on climate change is interfering with their rights to culture and
life, as well as their right to be «free from arbitrary interference with privacy, family
and home».18
In yet another (unsuccessful) communication submitted to the Human Rights
Committee, a national of the Republic of Kiribati (Mr Ioane Teitiota) has claimed
that, by returning him to that country, the state of New Zealand has violated his
right to life. Life in Kiribati, it was claimed,
12 See review of the petitioners' claims in «Petition to the Inter American Commission on Human
Rights Seeking Relief from Violations Resulting from Global Warming Caused by Acts and
Omissions of the United States» (2005), pp. 74–95. The full text of the petition along with
responses from the IACHR can be found at
13 Communication to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, in the Case of Chiara Sacchi et al.
(2019), available at:
14 Ibid., p. 2.
15 Ibid., pp. 6, 43.
16 Ibid.
17 Although the Communication itself is not publicly available, the NGO that is supporting this
claim (Client Earth) has posted an informative Q & A with relevant information, available at:
18 Ibid.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
«has become increasingly unstable and precarious due to sea-level rise
caused by global warming. Fresh water has become scarce because of salt-
water contamination and overcrowding on Tarawa [the island in the archi-
pelago where the Teitiota family is from]. Attempts to combat sea-level
rise have largely been ineective. Inhabitable land on Tarawa has eroded,
resulting in a housing crisis and land disputes that have caused numerous
fatalities. Kiribati has thus become an untenable and violent environment
for the author and his family.»19
ere is no doubt that a signicant body of international law is available for the
protection of these basic human rights. Treaties such as the International Covenant
on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic,
Social and Cultural Rights cover most of the rights mentioned above. Other «core»
human rights treaties,20 as well as a long list of regional human rights treaties and
domestic laws, are adding more layers of protection. Arguably, certain human
rights are protected, also under customary international law, and therefore enjoy
universal coverage.21
e relevance of this body of human rights laws to migrants and refugees, and
the need to enforce them, was recently recognised by the international community
through the conclusion of two UN Global Compacts, both of which have dened
human rights as a foundational principle.22 e Global Compact for Safe, Orderly
and Regular Migration states that it is
«based on international human rights law and upholds the principles
of non-regression and non-discrimination. By implementing the Global
Compact, we ensure eective respect for and protection and fullment
of the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their migration status,
across all stages of the migration cycle. We also rearm the commitment
to eliminate all forms of discrimination, including racism, xenophobia and
intolerance, against migrants and their families.»23
On the face of it, the commitment to and the coverage of human rights laws
seems both impressive and useful. A closer observation, however, reveals that cer-
tain problems nevertheless exist. It is useful to discuss the legal situation in two
19 UN Human Rights Committee, «Views Adopted by the Committee under Article 5 (4) of the
Optional Protocol», concerning Communication No. 2728/2016 (2020), para. 2.1.
20 For example, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrim-
ination; Convention on the Rights of the Child; Convention on the Rights of Persons with
Disabilities; Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women;
Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
21 De Schutter, O. (2019), International Human Rights Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press), p. 59.
22 Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migration, para. 15f.; the Global Compact on
Refugees, para. 5.
23 Ibid., para. 15f.
Avidan Kent and Simon Behrman Mind the gap: Addressing the plight of climate refugees in international law
scenarios/contexts: the event of internal displacement (i.e. where refugees are not
required to cross borders, but simply migrate to other regions within their home
countr y), and the event of cross-border migration (i.e. where the refugee will have
to cross a border in her search for shelter).
Protecting internally displaced persons (IDPs)
In the case of internal displacement, the legal situation is fairly clear: e above-
mentioned body of human rights laws applies, and in most cases it is binding on
states. States have reiterated their commitment to this body of law on numerous
occasions, including in the more specic context of migration, refugees24 as well as
climate change.25
Soft-law-based solutions have also enforced the protection of those internally
displaced due to climate change. e most notable document in this respect is the
UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGP),26 which in some cases
have been incorporated into binding legal instruments,27 or have been proven use-
ful for states in dierent ways.28 e UNGP require the protection of a comprehen-
sive list of rights, including protection from discrimination, arbitrary displacement,
rights to life, dignity, liberty and more.
Although the legal framework discussed above is certainly comprehensive, cer-
tain challenges still exist. To begin with, the fact that international human rights
law instructs states to follow certain standards does not mean that in practice they
do.29 A line of reports and studies indicate that the presence of human rights laws
does not necessarily mean respect for human rights also in practice,30 and that
24 See, for example, the New York Declaration, para. 5 (see note 9).
25 See preamble to the Paris Agreement (2015).
26 Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement, 22 July 1998, ADM 1.1,PRL 12.1, PR00/98/109.
27 For example, the African Union Kampala Convention states that the Parties are «[r]ecognising
the inherent rights of internally displaced persons as provided for […] in the United Nations
Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement […]». See the preamble to African Union Con-
vention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa («Kampala
Convention»), 23 October 2009. See also a review of studies on the implementation of the
Guiding Principles in national legislations in Kälin et al. (see note 29 below).
28 Simon Russell explains that the UNGP has been used «as inspiration for the development of
national laws or policies […] durable solutions frameworks […] have been most successful in
forging international agreement on and conformity to the meaning of who is an ‹IDP›»; Russell,
S. (2018), «The Operational Relevance of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement» ,
International Journal of Refugee Law , 30(2), 307–08.
29 Kälin and Williams note in the context of the protection of IDPs: «[A] recurring theme is the
gap between law and practice. The legislation of many of the countries surveyed in this volume
contains important provisions for IDPs in some cases specifying them as a separate cate-
gory and in others focusing on the universality of human rights for all citizens but in practice
these rights are rarely fully realized, especially for IDPs»; Kälin, W., and Williams, R. (2010),
«Introduction», in Kälin, W. et al. (eds.), Incorporating the Guiding Principles on Internal Dis-
placement into Domestic Law: Issues and Challenges , p. 6 (Washington, DC: American Society
of International Law and Brookings), available at:
30 De Schutter (2019), International Human Rights Law , p. 810 (see note 21).
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
compliance with international human rights law leaves much to be desired.31
Indeed, of the three petitions to international human rights courts mentioned
above, one was dismissed without even a full hearing (Inuits), another failed based
on contentious grounds (Teitiota)32 while the third (Chiara Sacchi et al.) is still
pending. Also, the implementation of the UNGP specically has been far from easy
and remains a challenge in many areas of the world.33
Moreover, it is important to note that certain human rights require the invest-
ment of resources, especially where population displacement is permanent and the
state is under obligations to provide benets such as adequate housing and access
to services. Where resources are less available, the delivery of rights becomes more
challenging. We elaborate more on this point below in our discussion on adaptation
Protecting cross-border migration
e case of cross-border migration presents further diculties. Although it is clear
that many human rights protections still apply, this body of law does not grant indi-
viduals the right to cross a border, nor to legally remain within host countries' terri-
tories. e right to enter another state (and to remain there legally) is secured under
international law through a line of regional (e.g. the EU treaties) and bilateral (e.g.
US-Marshall Islands Compact of Free Association34
) agreements that grant rights
of entry/migration to nationals of the relevant member states. ese agreements
are naturally limited in coverage and are relevant only for the «lucky few» who are
living in relevant states.
International refugee law and its limitations
Another, more limited right to cross a border is available through international ref-
ugee law. Refugee treaties (notably the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the 1967
31 See, for example, Human Rights Watch's annual World Report , or Amnesty International's
annual The State of the World's Human Rights reports.
32 Elsewhere, we give a detailed critique of this judgment: Behrman, S., and Kent, A. (forthcom-
ing), «Prospects for Protection in Light of the Human Rights Committee's Decision in Teitiota v
New Zealand», Polish Migration Review .
33 Kälin describes the impact of the UNGP as a glass «half full and, at the same time, half empty».
Kälin, W. (2018), «Consolidating the Normative Framework for IDPs», International Journal
of Refugee Law 30(2), 314. See more critical comments on the state of implementation of the
UNGP in Orchard, P. (2018), «Implementing the Guiding Principles at the Domestic Level»,
Forced Migration Review , 59, 11. This author (critically) mentions 30 laws and policies that
explicitly mention the UNGP. For a useful overview of IDP law more generally and its gaps in
relation to climate change displacement, see Koser, K. (2011), «Climate Change and Internal
Displacement: Challenges to the Normative Framework», in Piguet, E. et al. (eds.), Migration
and Climate Change (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press and UNESCO).
34 Available at:
Avidan Kent and Simon Behrman Mind the gap: Addressing the plight of climate refugees in international law
Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees35
) provide those who are recognised as
«refugees» with the right to enter other states and legally reside there. Importantly,
the right to be considered a «refugee» is not applicable to all those seeking refuge.
e Refugee Convention denes as a «refugee» only those who cannot return to
their home countries due to a well-founded fear of persecution «for reasons of race,
religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion».36
ere is little doubt that, according to these criteria, climate refugees are not «ref-
ugees»: e eects of climate change are not persecutory in the generally accepted
meaning of the word.37 e Refugee Convention's denition was designed in the
immediate post-Second World War period, and it understandably conceptualised
refugees in light of the horrors and circumstances of that time. Unfortunately,
although this denition was amended in certain, very limited respects under the
1967 Protocol and has been expanded jurisprudentially, it is a very long way from
being able to accommodate more modern phenomena such as climate change.38
e Refugee Convention still has an important part to play in providing protection
to people eeing direct persecution for their political or religious beliefs, or other
personal characteristics sadly these cases are still numerous. For that reason, we
do not believe that the Convention should be reopened for amendment, much less
dispensed with; rather, a category of «climate refugee» should be created elsewhere,
either through a new treaty, or more likely by establishing some kind of protection
mechanism via an existing human rights or environmental law framework.
Non-refoulement as an imperfect solution
Another relevant legal route for those having to cross a border is the principle of
non-refoulement, which has its roots in international refugee law but has since
been signicantly expanded as a universal principle via multiple human rights
35 United Nations (1951, July 28), Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, treaty series,
vol. 189, p. 137; United Nations (1967, January 31), Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees,
treaty series, vol. 606, p. 267.
36 Refugee Convention, ibid., Art 1(A)2.
37 It should be noted, however, that the New Zealand Supreme Court in an earlier iteration of
the Human Rights Committee case mentioned above left open the possibility that climate
change could be a contributory factor that opens the door to refugee status under the Refugee
Convention, although they did not go into any detail as to how this might occur. Ioane Teitiota
v the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment [2015] NZSC 107,
at para. 13.
38 The 1967 Protocol simply removed the strict temporal and geographic limitations of the 1951
Convention by making it applicable to refugee-producing events outside of Europe after 1951.
Case law around the world has been used to extend protections to certain types of persecution,
such as those based on gender or sexuality. However, the focus on persecution appears to be
a boundary, beyond which the Convention cannot be stretched. It should be noted, though,
that regional agreements such as the 1969 Organisation for African Unity Refugee Convention
and the 1984 Cartagena Declaration do extend the refugee convention beyond «persecution»
and have greater potential for including people fleeing the effects of climate change.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
treaties and cases.39 In a nutshell, the principle of non-refoulement forbids sending
people back to any place including their home countries where they face the
threat of serious harm. Whereas the Refugee Convention forbids only the return
of those qualifying as «refugees» (and thus less relevant for this chapter), under
human rights law this principle is much broader and applies to anyone threatened
by death, torture or other forms of inhumane treatment.40 e UN Human Rights
Committee has explained in the context of the Right to Life (Art. 6 ICCPR (Right to
Life)) that:41
«e duty to respect and ensure the right to life requires States parties to
refrain from deporting, extraditing or otherwise transferring individuals to
countries in which there are substantial grounds for believing that a real
risk exists that their right to life under article 6 of the Covenant would be
violated. Such a risk must be personal in nature and cannot derive merely
from the general conditions in the receiving State, except in the most
extreme cases.»
Many authors have made the link between the principle of non-refoulement and
the obligation to refrain from the deportation of climate refugees.42 ese authors
argue that the risks in returning to areas that can no longer sustain life (due to the
impacts of climate change) justify the prohibition on the deportation of climate
refugees: «e threat in this case comes from the environment, not from the home
state's policies, but the eect on the victim is the same.»43 e UN Human Rights
Committee has recently conrmed this line of argument. e Committee elab-
orated that the right to life must not be understood in a restrictive manner, and
that it «extends to reasonably foreseeable threats and life-threatening situations
39 See, for example, Kolmannskog, V. (2008), «Climates of Displacement», Nordisk Tidsskrift for
Menneskerettigheter 26, 302, 312.
40 UNHCR, «Advisory Opinion on the Extraterritorial Application of Non-Refoulement Obli-
gations under the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol»,
available at:, see paragraphs following note 34 with respect to
specific HR treaties, and text below the section above «International refugee law and its limita-
tions» with respect to HR law, which is based on customary international law.
41 Human Rights Committee, «General Comment No. 36 (2018) on Article 6 of the International
Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, on the Right to Life» (30 October), CCPR/C/GC/36,
42 See, for example, Kolmannskog (see note 39); Docherty, B., and Giannini, T. (2009), «Confront-
ing a Rising Tide: A Proposal for a Convention on Climate Change Refugees», Harv Envtl L Rev
33, 349, 377; Scott, M. (2014), «Natural Disasters, Climate Change and Non-refoulement: What
Scope for Resisting Expulsion under Articles 3 and 8 of the European Convention on Human
Rights?», International Journal of Refugee Law 26(3), 404; Poon, J. (2018), «Drawing upon Inter-
national Refugee Law: The Precautionary Approach to Protecting Climate Change-displaced
Persons», in Behrman, S., and Kent, A. (eds.), «Climate Refugees»: Beyond the Legal Impasse?
(Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge).
43 Docherty and Giannini, ibid., 377.
Avidan Kent and Simon Behrman Mind the gap: Addressing the plight of climate refugees in international law
that can result in loss of life»,44 including threats that result from climate-related
environmental degradation.45
It should be noted, however, that certain limitations nevertheless exist. To
begin with, as stated in the Committee's quotation above, the threat must be «be
personal in nature and cannot derive merely from the general conditions in the
receiving State». e case of climate refugees is hardly ever «personal in nature»,
and, by denition, it will almost always derive «from the general conditions in
the receiving State». Furthermore, as pointed out by others, the risk to the person
returning to his/her state must be immediate.46 is requirement is reasonable in
the context of «ordinary» asylum cases, such as where the person is facing threats
related to loss of freedom, violence, etc. e slow-onset nature of many of the risks
associated with climate change, however, will fail most attempts to rely on rules
such as non-refoulement (or Art. 6 ICCPR), as the threats from events such as rising
sea levels are not (yet) immediate.
ese two sets of diculties (the «immediate» and «personal» nature of the
threat) have featured heavily in the Teitiota case discussed above. e Human
Rights Committee ruled in 2019 that the claimant did not demonstrate that the risk
was «personal» in any way, or dierent from other residents of Kiribati.47 e Com-
mittee further decided that the slow eect of climate change (notably the fact that
life, even if harder, is still sustainable on these islands) implies that the threat is not
imminent, but will materialise only in the not-so-near future (if ever at all).48 is
decision is certainly important, as climate-related events were, at last, recognised
as a justifying cause for prohibiting the deportation of persons back to areas that
have been dramatically aected by climate change. Yet, it demonstrates the limits
of the principle of non-refoulement and the diculty that will stand in the way of
climate refugees, should they attempt to rely on this principle in the future.
The potential statelessness of climate refugees
Another legal matter that concerns cross-border migration is related to the poten-
tial statelessness of climate refugees. is possibility can exist only where all avail-
able adaptation eorts fail;49 entire island nations, such as low-lying Kiribati, Tuvalu,
the Maldives and the Marshall Islands, will sink under the ocean and eectively
disappear. Where the state no longer exists, its (now exiled) citizens may, arguably,
be regarded as «stateless». e 1954 Convention relating to the Status of Stateless
44 UN Human Rights Committee, para. 9.4 (see note 19).
45 Ibid., 9.5.
46 McAdam, J., and Limon, M. (2015), Human Rights, Climate Change and Cross-Border Displace-
ment: The Role of the International Human Rights Community in Contributing to Effective and
Just Solutions (Geneva: Universal Rights Group), p. 16.
47 UN Human Rights Committee, para. 9.7 (see note 19).
48 Ibid., paras. 9.10–9.12.
49 Some argue that at least in some cases, engineering solutions will prevent the complete sinking
of nation islands; see, for example, Esteban, M. et al. (2019), «Adaptation to Sea Level Rise on
Low Coral Islands: Lessons from Recent Events», Ocean & Coastal Management 168, 35.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
Persons denes «stateless person» as one «who is not considered as a national by
any State under the operation of its law».50 e novelty of this situation the lack
of a precedence, where a state simply physically disappeared raises certain ques-
tions that are, for the time being, open.51
To begin with, the denition of «any State» is important, especially as it is not
clear whether once submerged under water, a state can still be legally regarded as
a «state». According to international law,52 a «state» requires elements such as a
dened territory, a permanent population, a government and a capacity to enter
into relations with other states. Should a state submerge in its entirety under water,
each of these elements will be questioned.
For example, can sinking states simply build articial islands in order to main-
tain their claim to a territory? Can perhaps the online, virtual presence of a state
be considered a sucient form of territorial existence? And what kind of a «govern-
ment» can a state have where its «citizens» are scattered around the world, eec-
tively (and permanently) living under the rule of other governments ? It is doubtful
whether climate refugees themselves would prefer such an arrangement, in which
they are subjected simultaneously to two governments (and two sets of rules). More-
over, certain basic cultural and social rights centred around the right of self-deter-
mination will be heavily compromised by living on the territory of other states.53
And what kind of relations may other governments have with submerged island
nations? Cooperation on issues ranging from trade to extraditions, investment,
environmental protection and many others will all become irrelevant. Potential
exceptions could be issues such as the exploitation of marine resources,54 but there
is no doubt that the range of issues requiring international relations will be lim-
ited. It is true that certain unique examples of «non-existing states» with (limited)
international relations exist: e Sovereign Order of Malta is often mentioned in
this respect, having entered into diplomatic relations with more than 100 states
and securing a permanent observer status at the United Nations. is example,
however, is both unique and misleading. e Order of Malta is eectively acting
today as a religious humanitarian organisation, not as a functioning state with
50 United Nations (1954, September 28), Convention Relating to the Status of Stateless Persons,
treaty series, vol. 360, p. 117.
51 The International Law Commission is currently examining certain issues concerning the rise
of sea levels, including the question of statehood. United Nations (2019), Report of the Interna-
tional Law Commission , UN Doc A/73/10, p. 329, available at:
In addition, for a particularly interesting analysis of the novel issues thrown up by disappear-
ing states, see Burkett, M. (2011), «The Nation Ex-Situ: On Climate Change, Deterritorialized
Nationhood and the Post-climate Era», Climate Law 2(3), 345.
52 The accepted definition of a «state» is found in Article 1 of the 1933 Montevideo Convention on
the Rights and Duties of States.
53 See, for example, Wewerinke-Singh, M. (2018), «Climate Migrants» Right to Enjoy Their Culture',
in Behrman, S., and Kent, A. (eds.), «Climate Refugees» : Beyond the Legal Impasse? (Abingdon-on-
Thames: Routledge).
54 Sharon, O. (2019), «Tides of Climate Change: Protecting the Natural Wealth Rights of Disap-
pearing States», Harvard International Law Journal 60(1), 95.
Avidan Kent and Simon Behrman Mind the gap: Addressing the plight of climate refugees in international law
aspirations to rule its subjects and protect their interests. e inescapable reality is
that the «sinking states» scenario is entirely novel, and international law does not
currently possess any easy answers.
In short, there is a strong possibility that, unless certain political arrangements
can be made (see below), the citizens of submerged island nations will become
«stateless», because their states will cease to exist as «states» in any meaningful sense.
Certain international rules provide protection for stateless persons, notably
the 1954 Convention and the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness.55
ese conventions secure certain rights for stateless persons, inter alia their rights
to religion, access to courts, travel documents, treatment similar to that granted to
other foreign nationals on a variety of matters (e.g. right to work, housing, educa-
tion, movement) and more. ere are nevertheless signicant limitations to these
conventions. To begin with, membership in these conventions is far from univer-
sal. e 1961 Convention has 75 parties, and the 1954 Convention has 94 parties,
that is, even after many decades, fewer than half of all states have signed up to
them. Secondly, the 1954 Convention does not require states to grant a nationality
for stateless persons, and the 1961 Convention only requires this in very specic
circumstances involving children born on the territory of the state or where one of
their parents already has citizenship in that state.
Certain solutions for preventing the statelessness of those residing on sink-
ing island nations have been proposed. Interesting possibilities include a territory
transfer with another state (including the full secession of sovereignty over said
territory), dierent forms of unication with other states or, simplest of all, the
mere acquisition of the nationality of a third state.56 ese solutions, however, are
all dependent on the political will of relevant countries, and it remains to be seen
whether they will be implemented when (and if) the time comes.
Supplementary soft-law guidelines
e protection rules discussed above are the most signicant parts in the legal
jigsaw currently available for climate refugees. ese rules are supplemented
by a long list of mostly soft-law-based recommendations, guidelines and other
non-binding documents that are aimed at the protection of climate refugees. ese
soft-law documents often protect only specic aspects that are related to the pro-
cess of migration. For example, the Migrants in Countries in Crisis principles and
guidelines from 2016 are designed to protect those ending up in unsafe environ-
ments, whether it be a conict or a natural disaster. Another example is the Inter-
national Law Commission's Draft Articles on the Protection of Persons in the Event
55 United Nations (1961, August 30), Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness, treaty series,
vol. 989, p. 175.
56 These possibilities were identified by Park, S. (2011), Climate Change and the Risk of State-
lessness: The Situation of Low-lying Island States (Geneva: UNHCR), p. 17, available at: www.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
of Disasters from 2016, which provide useful instructions on international cooper-
ation and assistance.
Perhaps the most important soft-law-based supplementary guideline is the
Nansen Initiative's Agenda for the Protection of Cross-Border Displaced Persons in
the Context of Disasters and Climate Change (the Nansen Protection Agenda). e
Nansen Protection Agenda is especially useful in the context of climate-induced,
cross-border displacement. is document includes a compilation of best practices
and guiding principles that states can learn from and apply in their own jurisdic-
tions. For example, it proposes criteria that governments could use for dening
who are «cross-border disaster-displaced persons»,57 as well as best practices for
those individuals' admission and stay in their host countries.58 Other useful prac-
tices include the protection of human rights, non-return (an adapted version of the
principle of non-refoulement, discussed above) and the long-term stay of refugees,
where necessary.59
Mitigation and adaptation
Mitigating climate-induced migration
e most important international framework for mitigation and adaptation eorts
is the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and its
related decisions and agreements. is Convention is very likely climate refugees'
only hope for mitigating the rise in emission levels and providing states with an
opportunity to adapt to climate change.
e mitigation of climate change is in many ways the ideal solution it will
eectively remove the cause for migration (or at least reduce it where a mix of causes
exist) and consequently also the need for protection. Entering a discussion on the
UNFCCC and this framework's success in mitigating climate change is beyond the
scope of this chapter. Nevertheless, it must be said that current rules on climate
mitigation (notably the Paris Agreement's nationally determined contributions) are
insucient and not expected to succeed in reaching the emission reduction targets
set by the international community.60 As it is questionable whether the political will
to adopt more ambitious climate mitigation rules will be found in the near future,
perhaps one should not expect the «mitigation» of the problem (the reader is asked
to excuse our pessimism in this respect). In addition, we may already be at, or very
57 The Nansen Initiative (2015), Agenda for the Protection of Cross-border Displaced Persons in the
Context of Disasters and Climate Change , p. 22, available at:
content/uploads/2015/02/PROTECTION-AGENDA-VOLUME-1.pdf. It should be noted that on
completion of the agenda, the Nansen Initiative transformed itself into a permanent organ-
isation, known as the Platform for Disaster Displacement (PDD), carrying out research and
producing policy proposals around these issues. In particular, the PDD played a leading role
in the negotiations on the Global Compacts mentioned above, and it continues to work closely
with UN agencies and others to push forward the policy agenda.
58 Nansen Agenda, ibid., p. 26.
59 Nansen Agenda, ibid., pp. 28–29.
60 UNEP (2019), Emission Gap Report 2019 (Nairobi: UNEP).
Avidan Kent and Simon Behrman Mind the gap: Addressing the plight of climate refugees in international law
near to, certain «tipping points», whereby some eects of climate change are no
longer possible to control. More practically, rules on adaptation as well as «loss and
damage» may prove more useful in the context of this analysis.
Adaptation, loss and damage, and finance
e most signicant development to date in the context of loss and damage is the
establishment of a UNFCCC-led, cross-institutional Task Force on Displacement.
e Task Force submitted an initial report with several recommendations. ese
recommendations were endorsed in 2018 by the UNFCCC member states, and the
Task Force's mandate was extended until 2021. Its report includes recommenda-
tions on important elements, including improved institutional coordination and
coherence, and broader public participation. Importantly, the report calls on states
to «[c]onsider the formulation of national and subnational legislation, policies, and
strategies, as appropriate, that recognize the importance of integrated approaches
to avert, minimize, and address displacement related to adverse impacts of climate
change and issues around human mobility».61
Crucially, the Task Force is also addressing the matter of nance. As stated
above, the eective protection of refugees' rights involves the signicant allocation
of resources. Eective adaptation to large-scale climate migration requires the pro-
vision of public services, humanitarian assistance as well as the protection of rights
to shelter, education, health, etc. Some clue as to the nancial scale of this eort
can be learnt from Germany's own experience in hosting an inux of migrants in
the years 2015–2016. e cost of processing and accommodating asylum seekers
in Germany during this episode was estimated by the Organisation for Economic
Co-operation and Development (OECD) at around €10,000 per application.62 Over-
all, Germany spent €16 billion on asylum seekers in 2015 alone,63 a sum which many
nations may not be able to aord. Given that most climate refugees are expected to
seek refuge in the Global South, the allocation of signicant resources is expected
to be a signicant challenge.
e Task Force indeed addressed this gap in nance in several ways. To begin
with, it identied the existence of a «nance gap» as well as the fact that rele-
vant UNFCCC-related funds do not explicitly address climate-induced migration.
e Task Force points out that the lack of explicit reference could make the
61 UNFCCC (2018), Report of the Task Force on Displacement (New York, NY: UNFCCC), para. 33.
62 The estimated cost is for the first year of the application. OECD (2017), «Who Bears the Cost of
Integrating Refugees?» Migration Policy Debates, available at:
tion-policy-debates-13.pdf (accessed 11 October 2011). It should, however, be noted that in the
medium to longer term, there is much evidence that migrants/refugees produce a net economic
benefit. See, for example, a succession of reports produced by Jonathan Wadsworth on the
UK context for the London School of Economics' Centre for Economic Performance. Already
there is evidence that the mass arrival of refugees in Germany in 2015 is creating economic
dividends. See, for example, Dowling, S. (2019, June 20), «Germany Welcomed Refugees. Now
It's Reaping the Economic Benefits», Al Jazeera , available at:
63 OECD, ibid., 2.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
allocation of funds more complicated.64 is gap can have severe implications for
states' ability to adapt to future climate-induced migration, as well as for the level
of protection that they are able to provide refugees.
e Task Force further recommended that the «Parties and relevant organiza-
tions» will provide information on nancial support that they provide for averting,
minimising and addressing, climate-induced migration,65 and that the Executive
Committee of the UNFCCC's Warsaw International Mechanism, «in collaboration
with the Standing Committee on Finance and relevant organizations», will «facili-
tate mobilization of nancial resources for developing country Parties to avert, min-
imize and address displacement related to the adverse eects of climate change».66
ese developments are certainly useful. Unfortunately, these are all still
«recommendations», and no clear steps have so far been taken. Elsewhere, we have
argued that the rather vague mandate of climate funds could in fact be useful:
ere is nothing there to exclude the nance of climate-induced migration adapta-
tion projects.67 We claimed that the resources necessary for hosting climate refu-
gees could be dened as «adaptation eorts» and that with the lack of any specic
instructions on the matter states should at least attempt this route. Admittedly,
the UNFCCC funds are not sucient for supporting, say, the right to shelter for the
many millions that are predicted to migrate due to climate change. is limitation
should be acknowledged and ideally addressed through increased donations by
those states that are not currently hosting climate refugees. Realistically (and in
light of the Covid-19 nancial crisis), it could be that the more urgent adaptation
measures (e.g. humanitarian assistance to climate refugees) should be identied
by the member states in order to facilitate access to environmental funds (e.g. the
Green Climate Fund (GCF), the Global Environment Facility (GEF)).
Other authors have proposed dierent solutions with respect to the gap in
nance, notably the establishment of a newly designated international fund.68
We are not convinced, however, that a new fund is indeed the answer. e biggest
hurdle is and always will be the lack of nancial resources, and expecting ad-
ditional climate-related donations just because a new fund is created is unrealistic.
64 UNFCCC, Report of the Task Force , para. 23 (see note 61).
65 Ibid., para. 27.
66 Ibid., para. 27. See more relevant recommendations in the Report of the Task Force in para. 34,
p. 28 para. (h), p. 31 para. (c), and more.
67 Kent and Behrman, pp. 108–17 (see note 2).
68 Biermann, F., and Boas, I. (2010), «Preparing for a Warmer World: Towards a Global Governance
System to Protect Climate Refugees», Global Environmental Politics 10, 60; CRIDEAU (2013),
Draft Convention on the International Status of Environmentally-Displaced Persons (Third
version), available at:
International-Status-on-environmentally-displaced-persons-third-version.pdf; Docherty, B.,
and Giannini, T. (2009), «A Proposal for a Convention on Climate Change Refugees», Harvard
Environmental Law Review 33, 349; Hodgkinson, D., Burton, T., Young, L., and Anderson, H.
(2009), «Copenhagen, Climate Change ‹Refugees› and the Need for a Global Agreement», Pub-
lic Policy 4, 155.
Avidan Kent and Simon Behrman Mind the gap: Addressing the plight of climate refugees in international law
As stated above, existing funds (GCF, GEF) possess the required expertise; the
question is, primarily, one of political will to increase the scale of donations.
Supplementary soft-law guidelines
Other relevant pieces of legislation that are useful for enabling adaptation to
climate-induced migration include a variety of soft-law-based guidelines and reg-
ulations. e abovementioned Nansen Protection Agenda is one such example.
e agenda provides useful practices and guidelines on «preparedness», including
a recommendation to map communities (and areas) at risk, preparing future sce-
narios and plans for relocation, the establishment of education/training/accredita-
tion programmes for the facilitation of future migration and improved integration
in host communities.
Another key soft-law instrument in the context of adaptation is the Sendai
Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction. Although the Sendai principles are mostly
vague, some of its dened «priorities» are highly relevant for adaptation. e four
priorities are: «understanding disaster risk», «strengthening disaster risk govern-
ance to manage disaster risk», «investing in disaster risk reduction for resilience»
and «enhancing disaster preparedness for eective response and to ‹Build Back
Better› in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction». ese priorities are each
accompanied with a long list of specic key activities that provide concrete instruc-
tions for states wishing to prepare for the event of climate-related disasters (includ-
ing consequential migration) and adapt to it.
Access to remedies
e last element that international law will have to provide is access to reme-
dies. is part addresses the ability of those aected by climate-induced migra-
tion (mostly individuals and communities) to request a remedy from wrongdoers
that either contributed to the push factors in migration (e.g. by polluting) or failed
to protect refugees once they had to migrate (e.g. by not providing them with a
safe haven). Until recently, not many have attempted to demand a remedy from
responsible states. Recent years, however, have brought a barrage of climate-
related litigation in both national and international tribunals. Aected individuals
and communities are now trying their luck in courts, demanding eective reme-
dies from states. As reviewed below, certain obstacles are still standing in their way.
The double problem of causality
e most commonly requested remedy so far has been to reduce specic states'
emission levels in order to slow the eects of climate change. In some cases, this
request was fairly broad: For example, in the claim made under the UN Convention
on the Rights of the Child mentioned above, the petitioners asked that the respond-
ent states «ensure that mitigation and adaptation eorts are being accelerated to
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
the maximum extent of available resources».69 In other cases (e.g. Urgenda vs Neth-
erlands, Torres Strait Islanders vs Australia), far more specic reduction targets
have been requested. In a few cases,70 claimants have also asked for a monetary
remedy, mostly in the shape of the allocation of funds for adaptation purposes.
e main obstacle standing in the way of these claimants' search for remedies
is related to the double problem of causality.71 In essence, in order to get a remedy,
claimants will have to demonstrate two almost impossible causal links: between
a specic wrongdoer and the victim, and between climate change and the act of
e rst barrier cannot be easily overcome. It is impossible to isolate the action
of one country alone in the context of climate change and to attribute to this coun-
try results such as rising sea levels, melting permafrost or extreme weather events.
e damage is the result of a «common pool» of greenhouse gasses in the atmos-
phere, and this cannot be directly linked to specic states' emissions. Certain
creative solutions have been developed, including the establishment of a compen-
sation fund that would be based on large emitters' contributions,72 or a «pro-rata»
attribution of partial responsibility based on a given country's portion of green-
house gasses emitted into the atmosphere.73 e Dutch Supreme Court has indeed
accepted the latter possibility in its landmark Urgenda ruling of 2019, stating that
«each country is responsible for its part and can therefore be called to account in
this respect».74is decision indeed oers a bit of hope on an obstacle that was con-
sidered until recently to be impassable. However, unless such ideas are developed
and accepted more widely, the establishment of a causal link will remain «well-
nigh impossible, however sophisticated science has become».75
e second causality-related barrier involves the link between climate change
and one's decision to migrate. Climate change is often not the only reason for migra-
tion, but one of many cumulative drivers that have led one to leave home. e Fore-
sight report famously stated that «migration is a multi-causal phenomenon and it is
problematic to assign a proportion of the actual or predicted number of migrants as
69 Communication to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, in the Case of Chiara Sacchi et al. ,
para. 329 (see note 13).
70 For example, the Inuit Petition to the Inter American Commission on Human Rights (see note
12); the Communication submitted to the Human Rights Committee by communities from
the Torres Strait islands (see note 19).
71 Viñuales, J. (2016), «A Human Rights Approach to Extraterritorial Environmental Protection?
An Assessment», in Bhuta, N. (ed.), The Frontiers of Human Rights (Oxford and New York, NY:
Oxford University Press), pp. 216–17.
72 Ibid., 217.
73 Kolmannskog, V. (2008), Future Floods of Refugees: A Comment on Climate Change, Conflict
and Forced Migration (Oslo: Norwegian Refugee Council), p. 31; Kent and Behrman, p. 93 (see
note 2).
74 Urgenda vs Netherlands (Netherlands' Supreme Court, 20 December 2019), 5.7.5.
75 Atapattu, S. (2015), Human Rights Approaches to Climate Change: Challenges and Opportunities
(Abingdon-on-Thames: Routledge).
Avidan Kent and Simon Behrman Mind the gap: Addressing the plight of climate refugees in international law
moving as a direct result of environmental change».76 is assumption however, is
only partly accurate. For example, where migration is caused by rising sea levels, it
is often easy enough to isolate climate change as a major cause for migration. e
other «drivers» (e.g. economic diculties) are caused by climate change and hardly
independent from it. Indeed, in the recent Teitiota case discussed above, the UN
Human Rights Committee accepted that rising sea levels «can propel cross-border
movement of individuals seeking protection from climate change-related harm».77
In other cases, it could be that a lower threshold should be accepted: For example,
where it is likely that climate change has played a signicant role (even if not a
clinically isolated role) in the decision to migrate, or where research shows that
environmental conditions are unreasonably dicult in a certain area. Insisting on
a clear, strict, causal link would ignore the impact that climate change is having
on migration and even more so, it would ignore that some states are responsible
for this reality. Also, existing refugee law does not insist that persecution must be
the only reason for seeking asylum, just that it is a signicant contributing factor.
Indeed, it would be dicult to reduce any individual's decision to migrate to a sin-
gle causal reason; issues of economics and family intersect with persecution, gen-
eralised violence, etc. It is somewhat unfair, therefore, to insist on a more clear-cut
or unitary push factor for climate refugees, so long as the eects of climate change
can be shown to be signicant.
The limits of a non-refoulement remedy
Other requested remedies involve a declaration that those states deporting refu-
gees back to their (environmentally degraded) home countries are breaching fun-
damental human rights, notably the right to life. Such a declaration will eectively
prohibit refugees' deportation. e main limits standing in the way of those asking
for such a remedy (notably, the damage must be personal and immediate in nature)
are discussed above. Although the requirement according to which the injury
must be personal in nature is dicult to full in the context of climate change, a
small window of opportunity nevertheless exists. e UN Human Rights Commit-
tee stated in this respect that more general conditions (rather than an individual's
plight) will be accepted, albeit only in «the most extreme cases, and that there is
a high threshold for providing substantial grounds to establish that a real risk of
irreparable harm exists».78 Although the Committee did not accept that the current
situation in Kiribati is «extreme» enough to qualify for this exception, they were
receptive to the possibility that in 10–15 years from now, it will be.
One may only wonder, however, about the wisdom in such an approach, which
grants the right to life only where all is eectively lost. is approach eectively
forces the residents of environmentally degraded areas to wait until the very last
76 UK Government Office for Science (2011), Migration and Global Environmental Change: Future
Challenges and Opportunities , Foresight report, p. 11, available at:
77 UN Human Rights Committee, para. 9.11 (see note 19).
78 UN Human Rights Committee, para. 9.3 (see note 19).
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
moment and experience a slow, continuous degradation in the quality of their lives.
ese residents are forced to play the odds of their island's survival, leaving them
at the mercy of the international community's will to act on climate change. ese
are odds that most would not choose in any other circumstances.
Will the courts play politics?
Finally, it is inevitable that at least some courts will refrain from granting a remedy
in areas that fall within the realm of political decision-making. Issues such as emis-
sion reductions are subject to international negotiations and involve economic and
social consequences. It is understandable that at least some courts will be reluctant
to intervene in such a process without a clear mandate. In January 2020, the US
Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit denied a request to order the phasing out
of fossil fuel emissions in the United States, stating that «the plaintis' case must
be made to the political branches or to the electorate at large, the latter of which
can change the composition of the political branches through the ballot box».79 e
United Kingdom's High Court took a similar stand in 2018 when it refused to order
the government to take preventive measures in the form of more ambitious emis-
sion reductions.80 e High Court stated that «this is an area where the executive
has a wide discretion to assess the advantages and disadvantages of any particular
course of action, not only domestically but as part of an evolving international dis-
cussion».81 It is true that examples to the contrary exist (notably the Dutch Supreme
Court, as expressed in its recent Urgenda ruling, discussed above). However, such
examples are limited in number and, for the time being, also in their inuence.
International tribunals may be even more reluctant to provide such remedies
than national courts. International courts have traditionally walked a ne line
between securing the rule of law and avoiding activism that might unsettle the
international order. Moreover, in recent years, international courts have faced
unprecedented challenges to their legitimacy,82 including head-on collisions with
superpowers such as the United States, Russia and China. In short, it is likely that
the current atmosphere will lead courts to become more timid, and consequently
reluctant to grant remedies.
Future pathways?
We would like to conclude this chapter with a few observations about the future of
the international regulations on climate-induced migration. is chapter demon-
strated that, although a substantial body of law indeed exists, the gaps in the
79 Juliana et al. vs the United States of America Case , 18-36082 (01/17/2020), 32.
80 Plan B Earth vs Secretary of State for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Case No:
CO/16/2018 (20 July 2018). In 2019 the Court of Appeal refused the plaintiffs the right to appeal
the High Court's decision, thus definitively shutting down this particular claim.
81 Ibid., para. 49.
82 Kent, A., Skoutaris, N., and Trinidad, J. (eds.) (2019), The Future of International Courts (Abing-
don-on-Thames: Routledge).
Avidan Kent and Simon Behrman Mind the gap: Addressing the plight of climate refugees in international law
regulations of climate-induced migration are still signicant. ere is no doubt that
some of these gaps are unlikely to be lled, at least not in a satisfactory manner or
not in the immediate future. ere is currently no easy solution for those wishing
to cross a border in search of a new home; the protection of human rights law in
many parts of the world is unsatisfactory, and the nancial gap is unlikely to be
easily addressed. A careful look, however, reveals some developments baby steps
mostly, but nevertheless steps in the right direction.
Importantly, global policymaking is moving forward. is is not a given: Until
2010 83 there was no international recognition of climate-induced migration under
any international forum. Since 2015, however, we have seen substantive references
in important documents such as the Paris Agreement, the New York Declaration for
Refugees and Migrants, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly and Regular Migra-
tion, the Global Compact on Refugees and elsewhere. We have also seen the inter-
national endorsement of the Nansen Protection Agenda, the establishment of the
UNFCCC Task Force, and other developments as well.
Whether such developments will lead to meaningful results remains to be seen.
Two interesting venues merit a closer look in this process. First, the work of the
UNFCCC Task Force is located at the heart of the climate negotiations process; it
may frame the discussion on climate-induced migration within this institution
and inuence the positions of the member states. Importantly, the Task Force has
already indicated that it will not shy away from crucial topics, notably with respect
to nance.
A second important venue that will merit attention is the UN International Law
Commission, which was mandated in 2018 to examine issues of sea-level rise in
relation to international law. It identied three issues for further investigation two
of which (the protection of vulnerable aected individuals and communities, and
issues related to statehood) are highly relevant for climate refugees. Although the
Commission's investigation will be limited to the eect of rising sea levels, there is
no doubt that its conclusions will be relevant for climate refugees more broadly. At
the time of writing, this investigation is at its early stages, and in-depth conclusions
have yet to be made.
«Baby steps» are also visible in the context of remedies. e UN Human Rights
Committee's acknowledgment that the impacts of climate change may jeopardise
islanders' right to life is noteworthy. e decisions of national courts may also play
an important role. e Dutch Supreme Court's Urgenda ruling is especially impor-
tant: Although it does not address directly the issue of climate-induced migration,
it does provide solutions for some of the abovementioned legal problems. Notably, it
provides a partial answer to the problem of causality, and it demonstrates an activ-
ist approach towards the development of the law. Whether other tribunals (includ-
ing international ones) will follow remains to be seen. As to whether this approach
is democratically acceptable, this is a topic for a dierent essay.
83 The UNFCCC member states made their first ever reference to climate-induced migration in
October 2010 during the decisions that followed COP 16 (Decision 1/CP.16, December 2010).
Flooding in Jakarta, Indonesia
Photo: © Nora Bibel laif
«Care work, climate work»
From childhood, Dizzanne Billy, who is from Trinidad and Tobago, remembers
the great gushing Caura River, which she and her family would gather around. e
northern mountain ranges, at the foot of which she now lives, teemed with birds.
«Now the river is just dry,» she says. Coastal erosion is among the biggest threats
posed by global heating to the island. Since Trinidad and Tobago started to meas-
ure sea-level rise in the late 1990s, the ocean has surged from 1.6 mm per year to
close to 3 mm per year in 2019.1 ese days, when Billy drives down to the coast,
she can see waves tugging at the land and coconut trees. Fishermen are particularly
stressed, she explains, because the sea is taking away their infrastructure.
Oladosu Adenike, the ambassador of Fridays for Future in Nigeria, joins the
conversation from a crackling line in Nigeria. She was brought up on a small set-
tlement of farmland to the west of the capital, Abuja, now covered with buildings.
Although the country has always had to contend with droughts, often resulting in
famines, increasing temperatures and rain variability since the 1980s have aggra-
vated an already precarious climate and fed into food insecurity and conict.
Joyce Melcar Tan grew up on one of the 7,641 islands that make up the Philip-
pines. Industrial developments, large-scale buildings and tourism have supplanted
the pristine beaches and wooden houses of her childhood. When asked about the
impacts of climate change on the Philippines, Tan lists coastal erosion and coral
bleaching. More pronounced El Niños have also resulted in devastating droughts.
But it is the typhoons she worries about most. e country is one of the most
prone to tropical storms in the world, with 6 to 9 tropical storms on average mak-
ing landfall since 1970.2 In the past 40 years, their power has intensied by 50 per
cent due to warming seas.3 «Years of long-term infrastructure development and
1 Neaves, J. (2019, November 25), «TT Sea Level Rise Almost Doubles in Past 2 Decades», Newsday ,
available at:
erosion (accessed 31 July 2020).
2 Blanc, E., and Strobl, E. (2016), «Assessing the Impact of Typhoons on Rice Production in the
Philippines», Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology 55 (4), 993–1007.
3 Mei, W., and Xie, S. (2016), «Intensification of Landfalling Typhoons over the Northwest Pacific
since the Late 1970s», Nature Geoscience 9, 753–57.
Natalie Sauer «Care work, climate w ork» A dialogue with Dizzanne Billy (Trinidad and Tobago), Oladosu Adenike (Nigeria) and Joyce Melcar Tan (Philippines)
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
economic planning are wiped out within minutes,» Tan says, «leaving people losing
not only loved ones, but jobs, access to health services and the social fabric of their
Tan currently works as an energy and climate law yer for the environmental
law charity Client Earth, while Adenike leads Earth Uprising and the African Youth
Climate Hub. Billy reported on the Paris Agreement as a journalist and is now a
communications ocer at the climate journalism advocacy group Climate Tracker.
What follows is the transcript of a conversation between them about how the
climate crisis may shape the migratory trajectories of Nigerians, Trinidadians and
Filipinos. Adenike, Billy and Tan examine the shortfalls of current policies and pro-
pose new ones to make life easier both for migrants and those who are left behind.
e impact of global heating on women is also considered. All interviewees speak
in a personal capacity.
N.S.: How has the climate crisis aected mobility?
D.B.: Climate migration is relatively new to the Caribbean region, but it is going to
get worse as we are being hit with more frequent and more intense tropical storms
and hurricanes. We saw this in September 2017 with the rst Category 5 hurricane
that we experienced, Hurricane Irma, and then two weeks later, another Category 5
hurricane, Hurricane Maria. ose two hurricanes, which were followed by weaker
tropical storms, bashed islands like Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica and Puerto
Rico. Even Haiti was aected.
We found ourselves in a situation where the Caribbean Community Secretariat
(CARICOM), which is the overall body representing Caribbean member states, had
to come together to gure out how we would deal with displaced people. Along with
Barbados, Jamaica and the Bahamas, Trinidad and Tobago was one of the countries
that really stood up to nd a place for them.
e government particularly focused on supporting Dominicans, both in terms
of immediate relief and medium-term relocation. We sent out our defence force to
aid the relief eorts in Dominica. And our coastal guard deployed three vessels
carrying food, water, generators and a 21-member disaster relief team to assist the
In terms of migration, the Caribbean also provided disaster-displaced persons
a right of entry into the country. After Hurricane Maria, Trinidad and Tobago used
CARICOM's free-movement agreement a 6-month visa-free state provision used
to shelter displaced Dominicans. e prime minister quickly put into place poli-
cies to enable Dominicans to come to Trinidad and to allow their children to go
to school and integrate in society. Many other Caribbean countries followed suit
afterwards. It forced CARICOM to confront something that is going to just get worse
and to confront the question of the movement of people.
Right now, CARICOM, which is similar to the [European Union] for the Car-
ibbean, is supposed to have free movement of people but it's not as smooth as it
should be. Dozens of Jamaicans, for example, have been denied entry or deported
over the past years for reasons that are often unclear.4 ese cases have been
brought to the Caribbean Court of Justice and some are still being dealt with (are
currently under way this is based on Dizzanne's words and I did not manage to
nd evidence for this).5
In an ideal situation, it would be easy for people from Antigua or Guadeloupe
to move to another Caribbean country if they are hit, but the current system is not
in place for that [kind of] transition of people.
O.A.: In Nigeria climate migration takes dierent forms. First you have people who
have to leave their land within the country internally displaced persons (IDPs).
If this fails to bring relief, they may leave the country, temporarily or permanently,
to seek refuge. is is happening in the Lake Chad area in the north-eastern part
of Nigeria. e Boko Haram insurgency and also drought and deforestation have
displaced over 3.4 million people, including 2.4 million people within the coun-
try.6 People's livelihoods are lost in the process. […] Overall, the number of IDPs is
J.M.T.: Migration in the Philippines is a very complex issue because historically
we've had a lot of people moving, whether it be from rural to urban areas, or exter-
nally to other countries. e Philippines typically exports a lot of highly skilled
health care workers, including to countries in East Asia, like Hong Kong and Japan,
to the Middle East, and even to Europe and the United States.7 So it's hard to pin
down a particular climate change impact as the cause of migration and mobility,
because oftentimes the decision to move is a result of various factors. at said,
events like droughts, coastal erosion and other phenomena do make it dicult for
people to remain where they are and still be able to earn a living wage and support
their family with enough access to health services, food and water.
When extreme weather events such as huge tropical cyclones strike, there is
sudden forced migration. In such cases, as long as you can determine the link
between the extreme weather event and climate change, then you can also say that
that prompted the migration. Most of these would be internal displacement: move-
ment from the coastal area to the more inland areas, or to the urban centres, where
there would be easier access to food, water and electricity.
4 CEEN TV (2014), «Jamaicans Denied Entry into Trinidad & Tobago», online video, available
at: (accessed 31 July 2020) ; CEEN TV (2016), «12 Jamaicans
Deported Renew Calls for a Re-examination of the CSME», online video, available at: https:// (accessed 31 July 2020).
5 For a legal perspective on the Freedom of Movement Agreements of CARICOM, see Francis,
A. (2019), Free Movement Agreements & Climate-Induced Migration: A Caribbean Case Study ,
Columbia Public Law Research Paper, available at: (ac-
cessed 31 July 2020).
6 UNHCR (n.d.), Nigeria Emergency , available at:
(accessed 31 July 2020).
7 See Tan, E. (2006), «Labor Migration and the Philippine Labor Market», Journal of Immigrant &
Refugee Studies 4(1), 25–45.
Natalie Sauer «Care work, climate w ork» A dialogue with Dizzanne Billy (Trinidad and Tobago), Oladosu Adenike (Nigeria) and Joyce Melcar Tan (Philippines)
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
e other factor of where people would move to would also be the family that
they have in other places. So if there's family that may be in another island or
another region that the displaced community can move to, then that's where they
would normally do so.
ere is a divide, I would say, between the more auent members of the com-
munity and those that are more vulnerable, because the more vulnerable have
fewer options about where they can move to. e less auent would typically go to
cities and be part of the informal economies there, which means that there's greater
pressure on basic public services, but also a huge competition for low-skilled work.
In terms of external migration, where climate would be one of the factors, there
is also a dierence between the less privileged and the more privileged, [with] the
more privileged usually using their [wealth] to send their kids to school, often for
medical or nursing degrees, so that they can then go abroad and then earn a better
wage that they can send back home.
N.S.: What support is available to those making that leap? What kind of challenges
do they face?
J.M.T.: ere are numerous challenges. And I think one of the reasons for that is
because there is a huge dierence between the support that is available versus the
support that is required by the people that are moving[…] For ease, we can just call
them migrants at the moment, even if their movements might be outside of their
will and volition.
In terms of the internal movement within the Philippines from rural to urban
areas, one of the big challenges would be that the skill set of the migrants may not
match with the available work that is in the urban area. So, for example, traditional
agricultural families that may have been used to more manual labour, may have to
work in a commercial centre or in a call centre an industry that is very big in the
e second one is access to safe housing, because as more and more people
migrate to urban areas and in the Philippines, there is large rate of urbanisation
the rent and housing costs rise and the corresponding space for each family unit
becomes smaller.
O.A.: Migrants have to start all over again. ey have to look for connections, see
how to rebuild their livelihoods and regain stability. Some may come out stronger,
but many don't.
D.B.: One of the key issues is being accepted by the society one is moving into. To
take the case of Venezuelan migrants in Trinidad and Tobago, for example, there's
a lot of tension between both communities because of the perceived strain on the
economy, job access and access to resources at large.
People may be moving from a situation where they had a comfortable lifestyle.
But as climate migrants they've lost everything and moved into this new country.
ey have to start again, often depending on state access to funds and social goods
to survive. It really changes people's quality of life in a dramatic way.
I think it would be good if we could create policies to smoothen the integration
process, including nancial buers for people moving into the country, so that they
can stabilise themselves and not have to worry about whether their children can go
to school or whether they can get access to civilian resources.
N.S.: What happens to those who have been left behind? And again, what kind of
policies should be carried out to facilitate that situation?
J.M.T: So in the Philippines, it has really depended on what kind of events have
forced those who left to leave. So, for example, if it's a sudden-onset event like the
tropical cyclone that hit the eastern seaboard of the Philippines, then those who
were left behind because they had no option of leaving really needed access to elec-
tricity, basic health services and important psychosocial support because of all the
death and devastation that they have seen at unprecedented levels. And then also,
of course, access to clean water and food.
In the longer term, I would say that the policies that are needed to help those
who are left behind are those which would allow the local communities to increase
their resilience, because we know that a disaster is not necessarily a foregone con-
clusion whenever there's an extreme event, right? It's a result of a lot of exposure, of
vulnerability and no coping capacity.
In the case of slow-onset events like prolonged droughts, I think policies would
need to focus on systemic and long-term changes. So policies like providing liveli-
hood opportunities and skills training for those younger members of the family of
farmers or shermen who would like to nd other ways to be able to support their
families without needing to leave to go to the cities. Education is equally important.
Another solution that can be controversial is sustainable tourism, because tour-
ism does bring a lot of development and also carbon emissions. At the same time, it
is a way for the people who have remained in local communities to be able to build
back and nd a way to support themselves without having to leave. I think that Kate
Raworth's «doughnut economics», whereby economic development is modelled on
planetary boundaries and social foundations, is very important.
N.S.: In January, the UN Human Rights Committee ruled that refugees eeing the
eects of climate crisis could not be forced to return home by their adoptive countries.
is judgement was made on the case of Ioane Teitiota, who applied for protection
from New Zealand after claiming his life was at risk in his home country of Kiri-
bati the rst country at risk of disappearing under rising sea levels. e ruling was
in eect a landmark one, because it meant the UN recognised climate refugees after
decades of academic debates on whether it's ever possible to single out climate and
environmental factors as the cause of migration. What did you make of this ruling?
And do you think there are people in your countries who could consider applying for
climate refuge?
Natalie Sauer «Care work, climate w ork» A dialogue with Dizzanne Billy (Trinidad and Tobago), Oladosu Adenike (Nigeria) and Joyce Melcar Tan (Philippines)
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
J.M.T.: I think that that indeed was a very important decision because, as you said,
it was a recognition by a UN body that there is this category of persons that stand
to lose their homeland because of the impacts of climate change. [Another] key fea-
ture of that event was that the Committee said that there are 10 to 15 years in which
the Republic of Kiribati with the help of the international community could still
come up with ways to adapt to climate change, and so therefore, his life was not in
imminent threat.
And I think that one opens up a whole range of very important conversations,
one of which is that, even if we stop all of the emitting activities at the moment,
there is still a level of commitment to global warming that has already happened
that we are stuck with. is underpins the global community's [urgent need to act]
to [spare] people from small island nations from having to leave their homelands,
and thereby their cultures, their families and their traditions.
Secondly, the decision also shows us how the obligation of the global commu-
nity to act on climate change has never been more urgent so when we talk about
the adaptive capacity of the small island states, it's not just up to them to respond
to it, but there needs to be strong support internationally.
My third takeaway is that this decision has sparked a conversation on how most
emissions that have been made so far have been coming from completely dierent
regions in the world, such as Europe and North America the Global North. How-
ever, the earliest and most severe impacts of climate change, such as people having
to leave their countries, are already being felt in the Global South in countries like
the Philippines. Will this encourage people from the Philippines to le a climate
migration lawsuit? I'm not sure, but I [do] think that it provides interesting oppor-
tunities to do that.
Having said that, the Philippines Human Rights Commission is currently con-
ducting an inquiry about climate mitigation. It's encouraging to see that our own
local Human Rights Commission has started investigating carbon meters and look-
ing into the question of whether or not they should be reporting what they are doing
to mitigate their emissions.
D.B.: I think it's denitely a step in the right direction. It's not something that I can
say has been reected in this region or locally. I see that climate litigation is hap-
pening more often, whether it be young people suing their governments or organi-
sations suing those responsible for what's happening. I think that it will eventually
reach us, but for now it hasn't yet happened.
N.S.: Do you nd it helpful to talk about the specic ways that climate change aects
women? For instance, do women's experiences of climate change dier from those of
men? And if so, in what way?
J.M.T.: Yes, denitely. ere are dierent impacts that women have to deal with, and
a lot of it has to do with the traditional family structure in the Philippines and in
many other countries whereby mothers are usually responsible for cooking. is
means having to access water to be able to cook with, but also water for domestic
use in general. Because of lower levels of access to water or the increasing salinity
of water from saltwater intrusion, women would then have to spend more hours of
their day doing that.
And that also aects the younger members of the household, because if there
are opportunities for education, for example, these are traditionally given rst to
the male members because the female members are seen as being able to be more
productive when helping with the housework.
In terms of the aftermath, for example, of a tropical cyclone, there is care work
that would often devolve to the female members of the family. And so there is a
disproportionate burden on females that is brought on by climate impacts.
D.B.: ere's denitely that gender imbalance particularly with regards to access
to resources.
According to the [Food and Agricultural Organization], 43 per cent of the global
agricultural labour force is made up of women.8 So, as hurricanes become more
intense and droughts more frequent, we need to ask ourselves where this leaves
women who depend on the land for their food security. Providing these women
with the same resources as men can positively inuence climate adaptation and
sustainable development eorts.
As Joyce pointed out, it ties back to the traditional roles that women still hold in
many Caribbean countries. Women in the region often live in single-parent house-
holds, so when the land is impacted, this directly aects their ability to provide
for their families. Also, this kind of imbalance in power dynamics between men
and women determines who has rights to what and who has access to resources to
recover from the impacts of climate change.
Let's say a hurricane passes: It's much more likely that a man is able to bounce
back than a woman who has kids and is on her own. And that, sadly, is a situation
that aects many households in the Caribbean.
O.A.: Women are often at the receiving end of [climate-related insecurity]. On
April 2014, 276 schoolgirls were kidnapped from their dorms in Chibok, a city in
northeastern Nigeria, by Boko Haram. en in February 2018, they targeted the
Dapchi school girls.
As droughts become more frequent, so does early marriage. Some young
women are being forced into marriage against their own will in a bid to survive,
depriving them of their education. It cripples their opportunities to contribute to
the local community. It drains them.
Some of the people who give their daughters to early marriage depend on agri-
culture for subsistence. So when production is hit by ooding or drought, they will
end up giving their daughters for marriage so that they can secure what is known
8 FAO (n.d.), The Female Face of Farming , available at :
the-female-face-of-farming/en (accessed 31 July 2020).
Natalie Sauer «Care work, climate w ork» A dialogue with Dizzanne Billy (Trinidad and Tobago), Oladosu Adenike (Nigeria) and Joyce Melcar Tan (Philippines)
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
as a «bride price» money or property that the groom oers to his wife-to-be as
opposed to a dowry.
Insecurity generated by climate change also makes sexual abuse of women
more likely. We see Nigerian women engage in transactional sex for access to food.
And, of course, the women kidnapped by terrorist also suer sexual exploitation. It
can be a point of no return for girls. In cases of drought, housewives have to walk
longer distances to access cooking materials and water.
N.S.: Could you cite examples of policies that could soften that blow on women?
D.B.: No and the reason I would say that is because it's something that has yet to
take place. On the whole, gender in the Caribbean is only just starting to be taken
seriously. Even outside of the climate change sector, gender mainstreaming in local
policies is denitely lacking.
J.M.T.: One would be to allow the children of women to be cared for so that their
mothers can either pursue educational or livelihood opportunities. Equipping local
community ocer clinics with breastfeeding stations could further help nursing
mothers to contribute positively to the economy and bridge the gender gap.
Another set of policies could deal with the immediate aftermath of a disaster,
for example, where people are living in shelters. Something that was very, very stark
in the Philippines after Typhoon Haiyan was that the toilets in these temporary
shelters are usually shared by everyone. But certain women, depending on their
religious aliations, might be uncomfortable using the same toilets as men. And so
that's something that has been brought up as an issue and something to be worked
on in humanitarian circles that there be separate bathrooms for women and men
for adaptation in the immediate aftermath of extreme weather events.
N.S.: You both touched upon care. And it's interesting Naomi Klein, along with
many activists, is currently trying to make the point that care is climate work due to
its low carbon footprint, but also due to its central role in helping populations adapt
to the dierent environment that we're facing. Do you think that, in the wake of the
pandemic, care work is valued more?
D.B.: Yes, for sure. We are now seeing more appreciation for social work and front-
line workers. In general, children don't grow up hearing their parents encourage
them to become nurses or customer service representatives but these jobs were
denitely seen as essential during the pandemic. When disasters hit, these are also
the jobs that will be essential to deal with the impact of a hurricane or other climate
J.M.T.: Yes, I think care work has been emphasised by the pandemic as a very cru-
cial part of any society. But the pandemic has also highlighted a lot of systemic
issues with regard to access to basic health care services. [Questions such as] who,
among the population, are part of the essential workers, and how exposed are they
as a result of their situation?
[As far as the health services are concerned], it is true that they are less carbon-
emitting and could contribute to a greener economy. But then the pandemic has
also shown us that a lot of plastic pollution can be generated from all of the pre-
cautions that you have to take with the personal protective equipment that has to
be disposed of every day. So we do need to nd a way to manage that if we are to
assure ourselves that we will recover from the pandemic in a green way.
Care work also needs a lot of energy infrastructure, especially when it's not in
the context of care homes, but in hospitals. We need to really transform our energy
infrastructure so that it's based more on renewable energy rather than fossil fuel-
based energy.
N.S.: What message would you like to convey, above all, to the policymakers who
might be reading this, whether it be on the subject of a pandemic or climate migration?
J.M.T.: So I would say that the urgency to act on climate change and really respond
to it as the crisis that it is has only been highlighted by the pandemic. And
governments across the world have this opportunity right now to ensure that any
money that they use towards economic recovery does respect people and the planet
and is not disproportionately geared towards just economic recovery.
In terms of climate migration and migrants, there should be a continued rec-
ognition of this category of persons who are rendered vulnerable because of climate
impacts, which may be in geographically remote places where a lot of the big
decision-makers are. But that only highlights the global level of this problem and
also the requirement that we act as an international community and really coop-
erate to address it.
Finally, there has been this decades-long debate about whether or not climate
refugees can be protected under the Refugee Convention. What I would like to see
right now is recognition of a need for this category of persons without being tied to
the traditional denitions of the 50-year-old Convention that we have. We need to
protect this emerging class of persons, and one way to do so without them having
to leave their homelands is for us to mitigate our emissions where we are, and
especially those countries in the Global North.
Natalie Sauer «Care work, climate w ork» A dialogue with Dizzanne Billy (Trinidad and Tobago), Oladosu Adenike (Nigeria) and Joyce Melcar Tan (Philippines)
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
Resisting rural dispossession and
displacement: Peasant pathways
to climate justice
e Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change1 has issued stark warnings about
the impacts of climate change on global agriculture, as well as the impacts of global
agriculture on climate change. is is reective of a growing recognition that the
organisation of food systems is a critical dimension of our response to the climate
emergency. Conversely, there is little recognition of the importance of mobility of
people and food itself within the food system. e ongoing Covid-19 pandemic
has illustrated this importance in dramatic fashion through two sets of distressing
scenes. e rst involves Indian migrant labourers without access to food return-
ing to their villages from cities. e second is the destruction of crops by those
who work the land in the face of collapsing demand in cities. Both underscore the
extreme inequalities and incongruities that underpin the mobility (and immobility)
of food and people in our food system injustices that severely undermine policy
responses to the climate emergency already underway in the Global South.
is chapter argues that responses to climate change cannot be separated from
the historical and contemporary struggles of rural social movements to reshape
a global food system that systematically displaces millions of rural dwellers from
the countryside in the name of growth-led economic development. Rural social
movements in the Global South have challenged the ongoing dispossession of rural
populations and accompanying destruction of nature under existing development
models, questioning the necessity of «rural-urban transition», which underpinned
national and transnational development policies for much of the 20th centur y. ese
movements identify existing dominant models of development to be the root cause
of agrarian distress, rural displacement and ecological damage in the countryside.
Outlining their critiques, this chapter explores the counter-visions of national and
transnational rural social movements in order to map a peasant pathway to climate
justice. In particular, I focus on how these movements have asserted the right to
land, not just for the peasantries who till it, but also for those dispossessed by prior
1 IPCC (2007), Agriculture report in Climate Change 2007: Mitigation of Climate Change' , available
Hashim bin Rashid Resisting rural dispossession and displacement: Peasant pathways to climate justice
waves of development. at is to say, my focus is on their advocacy for the rights of
rural and/or urban dwellers to remain and/or become peasants.
e rst section of this chapter («Rural dispossession, displacement and mobil-
ity») looks at the historical relationship between agricultural development, rural
dispossession and the production of precarious migrant labour. e second sec-
tion («Voices from below: How rural social movements respond to rural disposses-
sion») examines case studies of rural social movements from Brazil, South Africa
and Indonesia to show how they have contested this long history of dispossession
by asserting the right to land, as well as the right to rehabilitate nature through
peasant agroecology. is allows us to see how the right to stay put articulated
as the right to become and/or remain a peasant is mobilised in discourse and
political practice to enact economic and ecological justice. In the third section
Transnational peasant visions: Advocating food sovereignty for agrarian and cli-
mate justice»), we shall see how the practices and visions of rural social movements
are articulated in transnational spaces through the peasant movement La Via
Campesina. In particular, we shall examine the concept of «food sovereignty» as a
counter-vision for climate justice that addresses the dispossession of rural peoples
and the destruction of nature together, with important implications for mobility
justice. In the conclusion, I reect on how listening to rural social movements can
help us think about questions of climate justice and mobility through understand-
ing the right to remain and/or become peasants.
Rural dispossession, displacement and mobility
For centuries, agricultural production has been connected to mobility through
rural dispossession, with displaced rural populations providing labour to large
farm holdings, as well as industrial and service sectors of the Global South and
North. For instance, North America till the late 19th century continued to rely on
slavery and indentured labour, which forcibly moved millions from Africa across
the Atlantic Ocean, and now relies on underpaid, «illegal» migrant workers from
Mexico to pick grapes and tomatoes in California elds. Since the late 19th century,
Australia has been reliant on seasonal migrant labour from the Pacic Islands, such
as Papua New Guinea.
ese dynamics of dispossession and displacement have been informed by
a belief that the transformation of peasant populations into industrial workers is
inevitable. Both global and national policies have been designed to accelerate the
dispossession of rural populations through the conversion of agricultural land into
urban and industrial land, the mechanisation of farming and the accelerated con-
version of rural populations into workers in a range of national and transnational
2 Araghi, F. (1995), «Global Depeasantization, 1945–1990», The Sociological Quarterly , 36(2)
(Spring), 336–37.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
In parallel to the development of commercial agriculture, the expansion of
«extractivism» in what the climate justice movement calls «sacrice zones» has
exacerbated the diculties faced by rural populations. Sacrice zones are known
as places that «don't count and therefore can be poisoned, drained, or otherwise
destroyed».3 Rural populations that dwell within them are forced to choose between
moving away or staying put as the natural world around them disappears through
mining, chemical poisoning, soil depletion, urbanisation and/or the industrialisa-
tion of land from which they derive their sustenance. is concept has been used
to describe the experiences of rural communities in a range of contexts, including
the United States, the Niger Delta and Rajasthan in India. e last of these examples
is particularly good for illustrating these dynamics. Over the course of the 20th
century, rural Rajasthan found itself stripped of its natural resources, as forests
were chopped down and commercial farming began to expand. e land lost its
fertility due to over-farming through non-native practices, and, more recently, the
ar Desert began to engulf agricultural lands through human-induced climate
change. It became impossible for rural populations to reproduce themselves via
subsistence on their land or nd gainful employment within their region, which
forced them to nd employment elsewhere. Hundreds of thousands of men from
the region migrate for employment in the service and industrial sectors in the high-
growth region of Gujarat, where the average cycle of back-breaking work before
their bodies give up is around a decade. e same men then migrate back to their
home village in Rajasthan, where survival and coping strategies are almost wholly
reliant on the next generation of men completing the same torturous cycle.4 e
lockdowns during the Covid-19 pandemic have provided a glimpse into the sheer
scale of these populations, with tens of millions of migrant workers migrating back
to their home villages on foot in India, as well as the mass forced returns to various
South Asian states as work dried up in the Gulf.
e combined eect of commercial agriculture and extractivism has been to
dramatically reduce the peasantry, a process referred to by social scientists as
«depeasantisation».5 Its extent can be gleaned from the basic fact that, in 1950,
only around 16 per cent of the population of the Global South was living in urban
areas; by the turn of the 20th century, almost half of the world's population and 41
per cent of the population of the Global South lived in urban areas.6 Hundreds
of millions who once had direct access to land and means of subsistence in rural
areas have now become largely concentrated in urban locations.
Among rural social movements across the Global South, migration resulting in
depeasantisation is viewed as a consequence of decades of socially and ecologically
3 Klein, N. (2014), This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs the Climate (New York, NY: Simon &
Schuster), p. 169.
4 Jain. P., and Sharma, A. (2019), «Super-exploitation of Adivasi Migrant Workers: The Political
Economy of Migration from Southern Rajasthan to Gujarat», Journal of Interdisciplinary Eco-
nomics 31(1), 63–99.
5 Araghi (1995), «Global Depeasantization», p. 337 (see note 2).
6 Ibid.
Hashim bin Rashid Resisting rural dispossession and displacement: Peasant pathways to climate justice
destructive development policies that have led to the rapid deterioration of the abil-
ity of small peasants and landless workers to be able to live and reproduce within
the agrarian economy. With roots that stretch back to the late colonial period, the
opposition to such policies in Brazil, South Africa and many other countries man-
ifests itself today in campaigns for the right to stay put as well as movements call-
ing for land redistribution and/or reform. Moreover, many rural social movements
have been proposing alternatives to the dominant model of agricultural produc-
tion, which remains highly reliant on practices that are devastating the soil, water
and environment, and which produce high levels of greenhouse gases in the atmos-
phere. In the next section, I examine some of the responses from rural social move-
ments in the Global South to the ongoing dispossession of rural peoples.
Voices from below:
How rural social movements respond to rural dispossession
Responding to agrarian distress and rural dispossession in Asia, Africa and the
Americas, rural social movements have opposed the dispossession of rural peo-
ples, thereby providing powerful counter-visions of climate justice. In this section,
I examine three rural social movements and their visions: the Landless Workers'
Movement (MST) in Brazil, the Landless People's Movement (LPM) in South Africa
and the Indonesian Peasant Union (SPI) in Indonesia. Each of the movements in
question view land, livelihood and mobility as fundamentally related to each other
and climate justice.
The right to become peasants: The MST in Brazil and the dignity of rural life
e MST of Brazil, a movement with more than three million members, most of
whom have participated in land occupations, has challenged the dispossession of
rural peoples through assertion of the «right to become peasants», thereby provid-
ing an alternative vision of climate and mobility justice from below.
e Brazilian context is a particularly harsh example of how the expansion of
modern agricultural practices can bring agrarian and ecological devastation. e
modernisation of agriculture in the late 1960s under the military junta led to 28
million rural workers and peasants being expelled from the countryside to cities.7
is, in turn, created an employment crisis in Brazilian cities, as the ratio of rural
to urban residents was massively transformed within a short span of three dec-
ades. Since the 1980s, Latin American agriculture, especially in Mexico and Brazil,
began to be transformed by market and trade liberalisation, the specialisation of
production and domination of the world food system by agribusiness.8 e neg-
ative ecological impact of agribusiness in Brazil has been widely catalogued, with
7 Vergara-Camus, L. (2009), «The MST and the EZLN's Struggle for Land: New Forms of Peasant
Rebellions», Journal of Agrarian Change 9(3), 365–91, available at:
8 Ibid., p. 370.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
the most recent and obvious example being the res that blazed across the Amazon
rainforest in 2019.
It is in the context of these recent waves of mass dispossession and ecologi-
cal destruction in the countryside and the ensuing employment crisis in the rural
and urban economies that the MST emerged in Brazil. Its success lay in providing
an exit strategy to peasants and rural workers caught in the devastation caused
by expanding agrobusiness, leaving them to confront the choice between social
marginalisation in cities and land occupation.9 e movement emerged in the
1960s, when it began to gain support among land-poor peasants, landless peas-
ants and rural workers who had prior experience with «subsistence agriculture and
non-monetized relations of production».10 It was subsequently joined by landless
rural workers and even urban dwellers.11
e MST's objective is to create «a space for subsistence» by gaining access to
land and cultivating it for self-consumption.12 e Agrarian Programme of the MST
strongly opposes Brazilian agribusiness while holding it responsible for climate
change.13 It also asserts the right to reverse the historic dispossession of peasants
under agricultural modernisation by rejecting the precarious life in Brazil's fave-
las and undertaking land occupations as a mechanism to become peasants. Once
the occupations are completed, the MST ercely defends their new agrarian settle-
ments against continued attempts from the Brazilian state and agribusiness to dis-
possess them. is means that the MST's approach to climate justice and mobility
is constituted by a complex articulation of the right to move or stay put predicated
upon ideas of autonomy, dignity and self-determination. In asserting these rights,
the MST challenges the basic premise of modernisation theory, which assumed
the inevitability of the transformation of peasants into urban workers through dis-
possession. Its priorities compel us to think beyond narrow interpretations of the
climate crisis as producing migration of a particular form from ecologically dis-
tressed rural environments in the Global South to the «developed» world.
Connecting land and labour: The LPM in South Africa
As in Brazil, the demand in South Africa for land constitutes a desire to reverse
patterns of dispossession and precarious mobility, which are often direct contin-
uations of the colonial period. In South Africa, dispossession and historical pat-
terns of migration have not been accidental outcomes of a developmental process.
Rather, they have been planned strategically by colonial rulers and the post-
colonial state through the creation of «labour reserve colonies». e latter involved
the large-scale alienation of land to colonial settlers. e dispossession of land for
9 Ibid., p. 371.
10 Ibid., p. 379.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.
13 MST (2014, February), «Agrarian Programme of the MST», Sixth National MST Congress, avail-
able at:
Hashim bin Rashid Resisting rural dispossession and displacement: Peasant pathways to climate justice
white settler agriculture provided a mobile and cheap labour force for large farms
and plantations, as well as the mining industry.14
ese patterns of mobility have continued in the post-colonial period, whereby
South Africa continues to attract dispossessed migrant labour in the urban, agrar-
ian and mining sectors from within and outside the country. It is in this context that
the debate around land becomes crucial. Immediately after the end of apartheid,
the National Land Committee was formed in 1990 to articulate a way to reverse
the colonial landgrabs that had been the root of racial, economic and ecological
injustice in the country. e continued legacy of these processes became visible in
the run-up to the 2002 FIFA World Cup, when tens of thousands of land occupants
began to be dispossessed for infrastructure and beautication.15 is revival of the
land question coincided with the emergence of the LPM in 2001 and bottom-up
land reforms in Zimbabwe.
With the African National Congress showing little interest in addressing the
land question, it was left to social movements to articulate the demand for land
reform, as well as continue land occupations on the ground. One of the founding
documents of these movements the Landless People's Charter, signed in August
2001 in Durban states: «We are the people who have borne the brunt of coloni-
alism and neocolonialism, of the invasions of our land by the wealthy countries of
the world, of the theft of our natural resources, and of the forced extraction of our
labour by the colonists.»16
By connecting land and labour, the charter shows how the movements that
make up the LPM in South Africa view a connection between dispossession, forced
migration and exploited labour. Whereas developmental agencies are often happy
to see migration as an issue of economic choice, South African social movements
see the questions of land and migration in relation to racial, agrarian and ecologi-
cal justice. e LPM has acquired a growing list of allies churches, development
agencies, iNGOs and the Brazilian MST with whom it articulates a global struggle
against landlessness.17
Where land has been occupied or reclaimed and/or given to peasants by the
state in South Africa, it has been returned in a poor ecological condition.18 e
LPM recognises the ecological devastation of land that transpires with commercial
agriculture and the need to restore its ecological health. is is why, in 2018, the
LPM was signatory to a joint letter to South African President Matamela Ramaphosa
to call a special parliamentary session on the climate crisis to recognise the link
14 Bernstein, H. (2005), «Rural Land and Land Conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa», in Moyo, S., and
Yeros, P. (eds.), Reclaiming the Land: The Resurgence of Rural Movements in Africa, Asia and
Latin America , p. 69 (London: Zed Books).
15 Sinhongonyane, M.F. (2005), « Land Occupations in South Africa», in Moyo, S., and Yeros, P. (eds.),
Reclaiming the Land: The Resurgence of Rural Movements in Africa, Asia and Latin America ,
p. 142 (London: Zed Books).
16 Ibid., p. 156.
17 Ibid.
18 Ibid., p. 151.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
between «drought, water inequality and the need for a food sovereignty system».19
Climate justice in South Africa, according to this perspective, requires addressing
the legacy of colonialism and post-colonial dispossession through redistributing
and rehabilitating the land.
Indonesian peasant movements' challenge to the plantation economy
In Indonesia, patterns of mobility and resistance were shaped for over a century
during the colonial period by the deliberate population of its outer islands to pro-
vide cheap, controllable labour for plantations.20 When the Sukarno government,
supported by movements such as the Indonesian Peasants' Front (BTI),21 began to
improve the conditions of rural populations in the plantations through land reform,
US-backed General Suharto seized power and undertook a series of massacres that
decimated peasant movements in Indonesia.22 e Suharto regime gave the plan-
tation economy new life by continuing the colonial project of transmigration to the
outer islands a policy designed to ensure the plantations received a continuous
supply of migrant labour.23
For more than three decades, Suharto's authoritarian regime continued
expanding oil palm plantations through the forced dispossession of small land-
holders,24 which is a policy that has continued alongside the well-documented
cutting and burning of the country's vast tropical forests. By 2015, out of a total of
7.3 million hectares of oil palm plantations in the archipelago, 5.1 million hectares
were owned by 29 large oil palm tycoons. e current Indonesian regime plans to
expand these plantations by another 20 million hectares through the further dis-
possession of smallholders and forest destruction.25
Since the end of formal authoritarianism, rural social movements in Indonesia
have tackled the question of plantations head on through land occupations, and
have broken away from the contract farming model through the adoption of «peas-
ant agroecology». Although its success has been contested and it remains a mode
of agrarian production very much in the process of being rened the adoption of
«peasant agroecolog y» has the potential to disrupt centuries of ecological destruc-
tion and socio-economic dispossession.
e Federation of Indonesian Peasant Unions (FSPI) emerged amidst an erup-
tion of land occupations all over Indonesia in 1998, when thousands of landless
19 «Open Letter to President Ramaphosa on Climate Change», available at: www.markswilling.
20 This was regulated under the Coolie Ordinance Acts of 1880.
21 Masalam, H. (2017), «Our Crops Speak: Small and Landless Peasant Resistance to Agro-extrac-
tive Dispossession in Central Sulawesi, Indonesia», in Kapoor, D. (ed.), Against Colonization
and Rural Dispossession: Local Resistance in South and East Asia, the Pacific and Africa , p. 107
(London: Zed Books).
22 Ibid.
23 Ibid., p. 100.
24 Aditjondro, G.A. (2001), «Suharto's Fire: Suharto Cronies Control an ASEAN-wide Oil Palm
Industry with Appalling Environmental Record», Inside Indonesia , 65 (January–March).
25 Masalam (2017), «Our Crops Speak», p. 99 (see note 21).
Hashim bin Rashid Resisting rural dispossession and displacement: Peasant pathways to climate justice
peoples began to occupy state and plantation lands.26 e movements began to
replace oil palm, rubber, cocoa, coee, teak and pine plantations with small-scale
farms growing smallholder crops such as coee, rice, cassava, banana, rubber,
mahogany, avocado and clove.27 In the same period, the nascent movement was
able to organise signicant protests and push the government to pass agrarian
reform28 an important step towards formal recognition of the land occupations.29
e SPI has not only continued to occupy and resist dispossession, its members
have engaged in reclaiming ecologically devastated lands through agroecological
production. One case study involves a group of plantation workers who reclaimed
an abandoned industrial area in Casiavera and replaced it with small-scale agri-
culture.30 ese former plantation workers rejected precarious and mobile plan-
tation life to become smallholder peasants. Soon they were joined by another
200 families, which included former street vendors and construction workers in
Sumatra's cities, oil palm plantation workers and even nannies who returned from
Malaysia.31 e SPI supported the newly formed peasant community of Casiavera
to reclaim the land's fertility and biodiversity through agroecological agriculture by
inviting them to attend SPI agroecological schools.32
is case shows that dispossession and occupation are core issues around
which the discourse and practice of rural social movements are organised. In the
Indonesian context, reclaiming the land is supplemented by an objective to restore
its ecological balance and counter the domination of agrobusiness. Moreover, the
SPI has opposed projects to privatise almost 96,000 hectares of rainforest under the
REDD+ carbon trading scheme, where it has argued that such schemes consolidate
the ongoing corporate control over territory and expand prots.33 Having opposed
both deforestation and the dispossession of peasants, the SPI like other rural
social movements such as the MST and the LPM increasingly views land reform
and peasant agroecology as integral to climate and mobility justice.
26 Afifi, S., Fauzi, N., Hart, G., Ntsebeza, L., Peluso, N. (2005), «Redefining Agrarian Power: Resurgent
Agrarian Movements in West Java, Indonesia», working paper in Recent Work series, p. 4
(Berkeley, CA: Center for Southeast Asia Studies, University of California, Berkeley).
27 Gilbert, D.E. (2019), «Labourers Become ‹Peasants›: Agroecological Politics in a Sumatran
Plantation Zone», Journal of Peasant Studies 47(5),1030–51.
28 Known as the People's Consultative Assembly Decree No. IX/2001 or TAP MPR No. IX/2001.
29 Afifi et al. (2005), «Redefining Agrarian Power», p. 20 (see note 26).
30 Gilbert (2019), «Labourers Become ‹Peasants›», p. 1 (see note 27).
31 Ibid., p. 3.
32 Ibid., p. 4.
33 La Via Campesina (2018), «La Via Campesina in Action for Climate Justice», Ecology Volume
44.6 (Berlin: Heinrich Boll Stiftung), pp. 18–19, available at:
Flooding in Bedono, Demak Region, Indonesia
Photo: © Nora Bibel laif
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
Transnational peasant visions:
Advocating food sovereignty for agrarian and climate justice
e MST, the LPM and the SPI are each part of a transnational peasant organisa-
tion, La Via Campesina (LVC), which brings agrarian reform and peasant agroeco-
logy together as essential components of its advocacy of «food sovereignty». With
more than 130 peasant and small-farmer organisations from more than 90 coun-
tries, many consider the LVC to be «the most important social movement in the
world»34 for its ability to set «innovative agendas for political and social policies» in
addition to developing a «new relationship between the [Global] North and [Global]
South» through «peasant movement to peasant movement» cooperation.35 e
LVC has been recognised as a leading member of the anti-globalisation movement
for its role in protests against the World Trade Organization (WTO), the Free Trade
Area of the Americas as well as for its role in the World Social Forum process.
ough it is known for its scathing critiques of World Bank land policies, its most
important achievement has arguably been its establishment of the novel concept
of food sovereignty, which it has brought into common usage.36
A product of the bold ecological vision37 of peasant organisations in Latin
America during the 1980s, the LVC was formed in the presence of 70 peasant lead-
ers in Mons, Belgium, in May 1993. It quickly asserted itself at the heart of world-
wide opposition to globalisation, articulating a strong grassroots vision of social
and climate justice based on the experience of its member movements, which span
from South-East Asia to North America. e importance of the LVC movements at
the national level discussed in the cases of Brazil, South Africa and Indonesia
was now combined with an unprecedented ability to provide novel concepts in the
transnational arena. ese found support across a range of developmental actors,
including national governments, iNGOs and parts of UN bodies, such as the Food
and Agricultural Organization (FAO). Developed at its second international confer-
ence in Tlaxcala, Mexico, in April 1996, the concept of food sovereignty made its
way into public debate as a counter-position to the dominant «food security» dis-
course during the rst World Food Summit in 1996.38 Martinez-Torres and Rosset
note that «[d]ominant neoliberal viewpoints see food and farming as about little
more than producing interchangeable products for trade. In contrast, food sov-
ereignty argues that food and farming are about […] inclusive local and national
34 Martinez-Torres, M.E., and Rosset, P. (2010), «La Vía Campesina: The Birth and Evolution of a
Transnational Social Movement», Journal of Peasant Studies , 150.
35 Ibid.
36 Ibid., p. 151.
37 For example, the 1990 Declaration of Quito states: «We do not own nature […] it is not a com-
modity […] we believe this meaning of humanity and of the environment is not only valid
for our communities of Indo-American people. We believe this form of life is an option and
a light for the people of the world oppressed by a system which dominates people and the
38 Ibid., p. 160.
Hashim bin Rashid Resisting rural dispossession and displacement: Peasant pathways to climate justice
development, for addressing poverty and hunger, preserving rural life, economies
and environments, and for managing national resources in a sustainable way.»39
Food sovereignty as a concept asserts «the right to farm as an act of social
stewardship of the land and food redistribution against the destablising and exclu-
sionary impacts of the neoliberal model».40 e Declaration of Nyéléni from 2007
states its opposition to «development projects/models and extractive industry that
displace people and destroy our environments and natural heritage». Instead, it
asserts that «the rights to use and manage our lands, territories, waters, seeds, live-
stock and biodiversity are in the hands of those of us who produce food».41 ese
assertions reect a will to retain the right to remain/become peasants, to reshape
the food system, and to address the ecological crisis at both the domestic and
global levels.
e concept of «peasant agroecology» was consolidated in the Declaration of
the International Forum for Agroecology in Nyéléni, Mali, in 2015. Declaring itself
in opposition to «the industrial food system [as] a key driver of the multiple crises of
climate, food, the environment, public health and others,» it asserts that42
«[w]e must […] build our own local food systems that create new rural-
urban links, based on truly agroecological production by peasants, arti-
sanal shers, indigenous peoples, urban farmers. […] We see agroecology
as the essential alternative to the industrial model, and as the means of
transforming how we produce and consume food into something better for
humanity and Mother Nature.»
It is these principles that shape the LVC's involvement in a number of transnational
forums, including the United Nations, FAO, the Committee on World Food Security
(CFS) and the Conference of the Parties (COP), as well as its rejection of the agendas
of other transnational institutions such as the WTO, the International Monetary
Fund and the World Bank.
e LVC has been a vocal presence within and outside the COP, where it has
pushed for a climate justice agenda that supports the adoption of peasant rights,
food sovereignty and peasant agroecology. In doing so, it has called into question
dominant thinking on the climate question, most of which revolves around osten-
sibly technological solutions: agrofuels, geoengineering, SMART agriculture, GM
crops, carbon trading and so on. In strong language, it has described these as false
39 Ibid., p. 160.
40 Michael, P. (2006), «Peasant Prospects in the Neoliberal Age», New Political Economy , 11(3), 414.
41 It goes on: «Food sovereignty prioritises local and national economies and markets and
empowers peasant and family farmer-driven agriculture, artisanal fishing, pastoralist-led
grazing, and food production, distribution and consumption based on environmental, social
and economic sustainability. Food sovereignty promotes transparent trade that guarantees
just income to all peoples and the rights of consumers to control their food and nutrition.»
La Via Campesina (2007), «Declaration of Nyeleni», available at:
42 The 2015 Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology, Nyeleni.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
solutions that constitute «crimes against humanity».43 It produces a wide array of
literature for both its members and the public in preparation for climate summits,
advocating the «replacement of industrialised agriculture and animal production
by small-scale sustainable agriculture».44 An LVC press releases at the COP 22 in
Bonn, Germany, makes clear that its solution to the climate crisis involves fun-
damental transformation of the global food system: «Our call for system change
is urgent because the damage is growing. Commons, including land, forests and
water, must be protected and restored to the people.»45
e LVC's advocacy of food sovereignty and agroecology won a crucial victory
in 2018 when, after decades of protests and lobbying, it secured the UN Declaration
on the Rights of Peasants and Other People Working in Rural Areas (UNDROP).
Moreover, the LVC has successfully operated within the civil society mechanism
as part of the CFS, where it has pushed for negotiations on guidelines pertain-
ing to land tenure, the right to adequate food, small-scale sheries' food systems,
nutrition and agroecology. ese engagements are often highly contested and
politicised, with negotiations taking place between national governments, inter-
national development agencies, the private sectors, civil society and social move-
ments. e LVC remains critical of ongoing processes at the UN, including the UN
Secretary-General handing control of the next World Food Summit to the head of
the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, Agnes Kalibata.46 Current discussions
in the LVC Public Policy collective in which the author is involved as a repre-
sentative from LVC South Asia include proposals to host an alternative world
food summit that centres on rural social movements and their allies rather than
global agribusiness, which it holds responsible for rural dispossession and the
ecological crisis in global agriculture.
is chapter has argued that climate justice cannot be separated from the historical
and contemporary struggles of rural populations for food sovereignty. It has aimed
to share some principles on how rural social movements from the Global South are
oering concrete visions and practices for a peasant pathway to climate justice. For
rural social movements, this course requires building an ecologically sustainable
43 LVC (2016), «Via Campesina at COP 22: False Solutions to Climate Change May Constitute
Crimes against Humanity», available at:
44 LVC (2009), «Sustainable Scale Sustainable Farmers Are Cooling Down the Earth», Via Campesina
Views, Paper 5, available at:
45 LVC (2017), «La Via Campesina Responds to COP 23 Calling for Peasant Agroecology», available
46 LVC (2020), «Via Campesina Denounces UN Envoy for UN Food Systems Summit for Dimin-
ishing Peasants and Their Rights», available at:
Hashim bin Rashid Resisting rural dispossession and displacement: Peasant pathways to climate justice
food system that protects rural populations from dispossession and provides the
opportunity for mobile labouring populations to become rural producers. In con-
crete terms, this means rural social movements articulate the right to remain/
become peasants as integral to climate justice, in that they assert the right of rural
populations not to be displaced, as well as the right of vulnerable labouring popula-
tions to be able to nd a way of reasserting their dignity and sovereignty by occupy-
ing land and cultivating it through the developing practice of peasant agroecology.
Rural social movements assert their right to be more than passive recipients of
policy solutions in the midst of economic, ecological and climate change-related
distress, and to actively solve the global economic and ecological crises by assert-
ing the right to become stewards of the land and food. As we have seen in case
studies of the MST in Brazil, the LPM in South Africa and the SPI in Indonesia,
rural social movements in the Global South insist on their right to land, the rights
of nature, and the right to stay put, and they believe these rights are fundamentally
linked. Climate justice for vulnerable rural populations does not merely involve the
recognition of new legal categories such as «climate refugees». It requires policies
that address the continued legacy of the colonial and contemporary dispossession
of peoples and the continued destruction of rural environments.
Rural social movements are under attack in almost all countries of the Global
South. e MST, the SPI and the LPM operate under authoritarian regimes. eir
cooperation in La Via Campesina provides much-needed solidarity and contributes
to the creation of a collective idea of rural development designed by movements
rather than policymaking elites. Important victories, such as UNDROP, are increas-
ingly under threat in a political atmosphere where pro-industry authoritarian gov-
ernments that deny climate change have taken power across the world. Global
agribusiness has found itself empowered in relation to rural social movements, and
the Paris Agreement has been weakened. Within this context, the amplication of
rural voices in the transnational sphere is more important than ever. ese voices,
which seek to overturn a century and a half of developmental theory and practice
designed to displace rural populations, must gure prominently in the policies that
seek to address climate justice and mobility.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
Climate change, urban futures,
and the gendering of cities in
South Asia
Comprised of the nation-states of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, India,
Maldives, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, South Asia is home to an estimated 1.5 billion
people. is region accommodates a large portion of the world's poor and margin-
alised populations, an increasing share of which live in urban areas. Between 2001
and 2011 South Asia's urban population grew by 130 million and is projected to
reach 250 million by 2030.1 South Asia is also anticipated to be one of the regions
worst aected by climate change; its cities are under serious threat from rising air
pollution and sea levels, increasing incidences of extreme weather events such as
oods, cyclones and storm surges, in addition to the irregularity of the monsoons
and intense heat waves. Many cities in this region are located on oodplains, in
dry areas or on coasts where severe oods have led to the destruction of homes,
the loss of livelihoods and the loss of life. e prediction of the Intergovernmen-
tal Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2007 that freshwater shortages in South
Asia would be compounded by ooding (from rivers, ash oods and sea surges)
has proven to be accurate.2 Furthermore, more than 800 million people in South
Asia presently live in communities projected to become zones with extremely
high temperatures that will cause increased damage, especially under the region's
carbon-intensive energy regimes.3
1 Ellis, P., and Roberts, M. (2016), Leveraging Urbanization in South Asia: Managing Spatial
Transformation for Prosperity and Liveability (Washington, DC: World Bank).
2 IPCC (2007), Climate Change 2007: Synthesis Report (New York, NY: IPCC).
3 Muthukumara, M., Bandyopadhyay, S., Chonabayashi, S., Markandya, A., and Mosier, T. (2018),
South Asia's Hotspots: Impacts of Temperature and Precipitation Changes on Living Standards
(Washington, DC: World Bank), available at:
Nausheen H. Anwar and Malini Sur Climate change, urban futures, and the gendering of cities in South Asia
If it was once possible to write about future rural and urban areas as distinct
sites of struggle and lived experience, today South Asian cities can no longer be
viewed as isolated zones protected from the vagaries of nature and climate change.
For instance, in the past, the plight of farmers who braved droughts and oods
and even lost their lives to weather-related events hardly impacted city dwell-
ers, except for price rises in food and other related commodities. Such scenarios,
in which the rural world suered in relative isolation, contrast sharply with the
impact of events such as Cyclone Ampan, which devastated large parts of eastern
India and Bangladesh in 16–19 May 2020. Not only did it wash away crops, cattle
and embankments in remote rural regions, Ampan also caused devastation in the
city of Kolkata, where high winds and oods damaged infrastructure: e city's air-
port was ooded and electricity poles, trees and settlements in urban slums were
razed to the ground. e disastrous eects of this cyclonic event were particularly
severe on the urban poor, especially those with inadequate and insecure housing.
e long-term impacts of such extreme weather events along with the fallout
of ill-planned developmental projects for mitigating climate change are particu-
larly evident in regions such as the Indus Delta in Pakistan, and Khulna and the
Sundarbans in Bangladesh ecologically fragile zones from which the rural and
landless poor are displaced, eectively driven into insecure urban settlements in
South Asian cities. Of course, cyclonic events and ooding are by no means unique
or exceptional to these cities. Globally, city dwellers have been living and coping
with extreme weather events linked to climate change for many years. What we
propose to show in this chapter, however, is how the impact of such occurrences
exposes the foundational and structural aws of our cities, thereby raising urgent
questions and policy issues related to class and gender inequality.
Examining the relationship between climate change and urbanisation, we
show how climate change risks in urban South Asia disproportionately aect the
livelihoods, health and wellbeing of the poor, especially women; how they entrench
displacement and precarity; and how extreme heat, water scarcity, pollution and
dust impact their lives, health and livelihoods. As we propose to show, issues of
climate change mitigation and adaptation are compounded by the fact that provi-
sions for essential services such as clean water and clean air are far below regional
thresholds and do not meet general social welfare criteria. For instance, although
cities may factor in climate change, it is imperative that a broader understanding of
the interface between climate and development priorities across policy and govern-
ance at all levels be developed to reduce the ill-eects of climate change in urban
areas.4 Even as South Asian cities are transforming into global cities, the urban
poor remain conned to settlements that lack access to basic housing, water and
electricity supplies. Despite providing avenues of employment for large numbers of
the rural and urban poor, South Asia's construction boom is not ameliorating the
conditions in which most are forced to live and earn their livelihoods. In fact, for
4 Khosla, R., and Bhardwaj, A. (2019), «Urbanization in the Time of Climate Change: Examining
the Response of Indian Cities», WIREs Clim Change , 10, e560.
Climate Justice and Migration Mobility, Development, and Displacement in the Global South
the migrant poor, who lack political voice in cities, real estate development disrupts
social networks while heightening exposure to emerging climate risks and nancial
precariousness, thereby generating conditions of injustice and exclusion.5
Climate change, urbanisation and displacement
Today, most South Asian cities are struggling with the pressures of population
growth on land, housing, infrastructure and basic services, alongside climate
change impacts that include fast-rising temperatures, volatile precipitation levels
and ooding. Seasonal high temperatures concurrent with either summer-
time or with dry or rainy seasons continue to break annual records in localised
manifestations of global heating. e combination of extreme heat with extreme
humidity is becoming more severe in South Asian cities, and this presents unique
health risks. Much of South Asia's urbanisation is reected in the older slums in
cities as well as the emerging informal settlements,6 in which nearly 130 million
South Asians reside.7 Informal settlements are also spreading out to the periph-
eries of cities. Indeed, amidst the massive urban transformation in South Asia,
it is now evident that the majority of the expansion is taking place beyond mu-
nicipal boundaries.8 Agrarian hinterlands and so-called urban peripheries have
witnessed the most dramatic changes.9
Urban and rural/agrarian entanglements are shaping the contested politics
of land, real estate and infrastructure to produce a «highly unequal and tense
socio-political landscape of access, inclusion and displacement».10 Within this
urban-rural landscape, pastoralists, indigenous groups and agriculturalists are
willingly, or through coercion, giving up their land and/or their livelihoods; the
bonds of kinship and social relations that underpin their communities are being
eroded.11 As Gururani and Dasgupta note:
5 Chu, E., and Michael, K. (2018), «Recognition in Urban Climate Justice: Marginality and Exclu-
sion of Migrants in Indian Cities», Environment and Urbanization 31(1), 139–56.
6 Not all informal settlements are slums and nor are they necessarily «informal». Context matters
but broadly speaking, informal settlements arise out of informalised processes of land acqui-
sition, e.g. incomplete property rights, self-help construction. For a substantive discussion on
the tricky matters of defining slums and informal settlements and relevance to policy, see Gil-