The Problem of Climate-Induced Displacement: Analyzing the International Framework on Protection of Rights of Climate Migrants

The Problem of Climate-Induced Displacement: Analyzing the International Framework on Protection of Rights of Climate Migrants

Gunjan Chawla Arora (Institute of Law, Nirma University, India)
Copyright: © 2020 |Pages: 16
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-0315-7.ch004

Abstract

The members of a community owe their identity to the State to which they belong which inculcates a sense of belongingness to their own community, people, and land. The loss of identity to a State due to disruptive climate change is a fear in this century. Excessive utilization and consumption of fossil fuels and non-renewable energy sources across the globe have caused unprecedented increase in global temperatures. Sudden incidents of unprecedented floods on Bhola Islands in Bangladesh, or the disappearance of the Kiribati and Lohachara Islands due to rising sea-level have forced communities to flee their own country. This has raised questions about the status of such climate migrants. Media reports have designated them as “climate refugees.” But are they really refugees? The research aims at understanding the nexus between climate change and mass displacement of communities, the status of such migrants and the International legal framework on the status of such migrants.
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Introduction

Sustainable development seems like an implausible agenda to achieve. What troubles the world now is not to mitigate the adverse effects of Climate Change but the question “How to mitigate its adverse effects?” It is now no more the agenda of Climate Change, but Climate Action- to come with a plan (“UN Climate Action Summit,” 2019).

Article 13 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, 1948, endows upon every person the right to freedom of movement within the boundaries of ones’ own country and the freedom to leave it and the right to return back to his country. This may be interpreted as being an absolute right in so far as the provision is not governed by any qualifications on the freedom of movement of any person. However, what Article 13 fails to mention is the right “to enter” any other country. This is only slightly mitigated by the right to seek asylum as provided under Article 14 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, 1948, which asserts its availability for reasons of persecution and no other. This again is subject to criticism as it is a non-inclusive definition that limits its application to persecution by State that threatens the life and limb of the person seeking asylum.

Article 14 of the Constitution of India emphasises on right to equality before law and equal protection of law to be bestowed upon both the citizens and non-citizens. Hence, this implies that a non-citizen shall also be provided with the same rights and protection as a citizen. In matters relating to protection and improvement of environment the provisions relating to Fundamental rights, Directive Principles of the State policy and Fundamental Duties provide a clear mandate and endow upon both the citizens and the State to fulfil the objective of striving towards achieving a sustainable environment. This is further complimentary with the Treaty-making power of the Government of India under Article 253 of the Constitution of India, adopted in 1949, in furtherance of which various environment protection regulations have been enacted to comply with the International mandate and standards to achieve sustainable development and limit the effects of climate change. However, when talking about immigration and infiltration of non-citizens in to the Indian Territory, the polity doesn’t seem as much welcoming. Although blanket protection under the “reasonable restriction clause” pertaining to security of the state and territory of India may be justified in order to restrict the infiltration of immigrants into any territory, but its justification against such immigrants who flee their countries owing to climate change and degradation of their habitat, poses a doubt upon principles of humanity. In the words of Greta Thunberg (2019), one such question that these climate migrants may be posed with and seek answers to is “how dare you?’. This is a question bothering the present and future generations. In response to this neither the international community nor the polity seems to not have any conclusive answers. What has been done can no longer be undone. Consequently, we all are now forced to bear the scourge of the disasters that might unfold due to unprecedented environmental damage. It is not the time to change but a time to act and this brings us to the issues and challenges that shall be encountered as a consequence of climate change- Climate Migration and Displacement of several of thousands of people due to environmental damage and collapsing ecosystems.

In the last century, International events around the world, particularly those due to climate change and environmental degradation, have given rise to a variety of different connotation o the term ‘refugee’, signalling that the present definition may be obsolete. It is time that the scientific community is urged to extend the meaning of the term “refugee” which has remained unchanged since the 1951 Convention relating to Status of Refugees. Another issue that needs deliberation is whether such people are to be addressed as “refugees” or “migrants” owing to the difference in the literal connotation of both the words.

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