Climate Justice and Migrant Rights


Climate change, global migration and human rights ARE linked. As global warming advances around the world, increasing numbers of people are being displaced from their lands, livelihoods and homes, becoming “internally displaced peoples” within their own countries, for forced to migrate across international borders. And as they are displaced, access to human rights becomes an even more important challenge in the pursuit of safety, work and a new home.

Read NNIRR's Fact Sheet on "Climate Change, Global Migration and Human Rights" (Sept. 2018)



Additional Resources for uderstanding the intersection of climate & migration

The Climate Crisis & Rights Denied: a comprehensive report by the Othering and Belonging Institute. An excerpt from their intro:

Yet, across international humanitarian law, human rights law, refugee law, and other bodies of law, protections for climate-induced displaced persons forced to cross international borders are limited, piecemeal, and not legally binding. International migration following short-term disasters is only occasionally protected under humanitarian visas and state-specific measures as with the United States’ Temporary Protected Status designation, though such protections are often provisional and not legally binding. Likewise, international migration following long-term disasters is not covered unless the provision of support by the local government (or governments) is denied on the basis of race, religion, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.

NY Time interactive article: "The Great Climate Migration" 

While this piece is missing the antecedents to climate change in regions such as Central America, i.e. root causes of political unrest, corporate greed and control, poverty caused by gross inequities now exacerbated by climate conditions, the research and storytelling are good background when understood in context.

As the climate changes, drought and food insecurity drive rural residents in Mexico and Central America out of the countryside.

Running Dry A new series in The Guardian on climate change and migration in Central America. Read at

Environmental Migration Portal of the International Organization for Migration. Knowledge Platform on People on the Move in a Changing Climate


Climate & Migration - context and definitions

We may be more familiar with situations in which people may be displaced because of natural disasters, such as massive earthquakes or hurricanes or other examples of “rapid onset” climate change. People may become temporary, or long-term refugees. However, today, many more people, particularly among large movements of “forced migrants”, are also displaced due to “slow onset” climate change, in which rising temperatures and sea levels, drought-rain cycles and other phenomena have robbed people of access to arable land or fishing, their homes and livelihoods.

The crisis of displaced populations raises familiar concerns: on the one hand, how to adequately address immediate and emergent issues for these vulnerable populations, including humanitarian responses, while understanding and comprehensively addressing the underlying factors and long-term consequences. It is an increasingly urgent issue, and we have a lot of work to do!

While there isn’t an easily countable number of climate migrants displaced due to slow-onset changes, a 2017 Greenpeace study concludes that approximately 25.4 million people are displaced every year; this is an estimated 60% higher than the rate of climate displacement four decades ago. Most of this population displacement is taking place in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Latin America—three “hot spots” that represent over half of the developing world’s populations. These “climate migrants” are often rural or coastal residents who migrate to safer urban areas. Skills such as fishing and farming are not useful in urban areas, leaving many jobless. This means that a displaced climate migrant may have difficulty finding work which matches their skill set and experience, adding to the economic adversities faced by those displaced. Assimilation into a different lifestyle while living without a home, many belongings or employment can be extremely traumatic and challenging for unaided families and individuals. In addition, accessing even basic necessities, such as decent housing, health care, and education, can be out of reach.

While international climate migration issues rise to the forefront of these discussions, they exist very much in the domestic U.S. sphere as well. Indigenous reservations and communities of color are often situated near environmentally hazardous areas like coal plants and mines. As of 2017, African Americans are exposed to 38 % more polluted air than whites, and are 75 % more likely to live in chemical-factory “fence-line zones” than the US average (Latino communities are 60 percent more likely). As extreme weather events increase in frequency, already vulnerable communities will become even more so.

These issues have been addressed to some degree at an international level in documents like the Paris Climate Accords and the Global Compact for Migration. The most recently negotiated Global Compact has established a general non-binding agreement of participating countries to  “integrate displacement considerations into disaster preparedness strategies and promote cooperation with neighbouring and other relevant countries,” as well as to “address the vulnerabilities of persons affected by sudden-onset and slow-onset natural disasters, by ensuring they have access to humanitarian assistance that meets their essential needs.” While this is a start, it does leave a lot to desire in terms of concrete commitments to the populations most severely in need.

These topics were addressed at the Global Climate Action Summit in September, 2018, held in San Francisco. It was the focus of a workshop moderated by NNIRR in a parallel forum on global climate change and health. Bay Area-based It Takes Roots also held a week of activities offering a more grassroots-centered week of activities.

Check out these historical documents for your orientation. A brief "fact sheet" from NNIRR on Climate Change, Global Migration and Human Rights, and the second, a more in-depth briefing paper, Environmental Degradation, Climate Change, Migration & Development, drafted by Stephen Castles and former NNIRR staffer Colin Rajah, in 2010.