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Future floods of refugees: a comment on climate change, conflict and forced migration

Publication date:
V.O. Kolmannskog
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With the certainty of global warming, the term ‘climate refugees’ is gaining popularity in public discourse. The term climate refugees implies a mono-causality that one rarely finds in human reality. No one factor, event or process, inevitably results in forced migration or conflict. It is very likely that climate change impacts will contribute to an increase in forced migration. This report considers the different factors that force migration and how climate change has impacted on these issues. The author highlights how forced migration can be triggered by environmental conflicts over already scares resources of water and land. The report highlights how governance and the role of the state are often crucial factors. In fact, cooperation rather than conflict may be the response to some environmental challenges. Resorting to quick-fix solutions of new laws and policies often fulfills an action function, the need to be seen to act, but closer consideration of the existing prevention and protection possibilities may prove helpful before new measures are enacted.
The author argues that existing law and protection possibilities should be further investigated to identify and address potential protection gaps. An approach similar to the one taken with regard to IDPs, with the creation of the Guiding Principles, could be considered. The root causes of climate migration must also be addressed adaptation to climate change in developing countries must be made a top priority along with mitigation. Alongside more typical information and infrastructure measures, addressing general factors of forced migration and conflict can contribute to vulnerability reduction and adaptation. Additional recommendations include:

many of the forced migrants may be included in already existing categories of protected persons, but they may need to be made more visible and recognised within the categories
for the internally displaced persons in general there is still a severe protection deficit that must be better addressed
when it comes to the island states that risk becoming submerged, some sort of regulation or agreement on a regional or international level should be considered
financial resources must also be made available for countries to deal with problems of climate change-related displacement.