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Climate Change Refugees

Forced Displacement Due to Environmental Degradation: A Critical Analysis of the Current Regime for so-Called ‘Climate Change Refugees’

Caitlin Cooney

The current law does not sufficiently address the issue of forced migration due to environmental degradation. We are in a time of rapid climate change and uncertainty on a global scale. Those who are forcibly displaced by climate change cannot rely on the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees as it provides no recognition for their plight, which does not fall within the five protected characteristics. As increasing numbers of natural habitats are destroyed or lost to rising sea levels, melting ice caps and extreme weather events, the number of people who require protection is going to grow exponentially. Change is required in asylum and immigration law to address this lacuna, either by expanding the refugee definition to include those displaced by environmental degradation, applying the current framework for Internally Displaced Persons to the issue of so-called ‘climate change refugees’, or developing a completely new piece of legislation.

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