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Preparing for a warmer world: towards a global governance system to protect climate refugees

Publication date:
F. Biermann
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Climate change threatens to cause the largest refugee crisis in human history. More than 200 million people, largely in Africa and Asia, might be forced to leave their homes to seek refuge in other places or countries over the course of the century.This paper argues that current institutions, organisations and funding mechanisms are not sufficiently equipped to deal with this looming crisis and advocates a blueprint for global governance for the protection of climate refugees.The blueprint for the recognition, protection and resettlement of climate refugees builds on a set of core principles tailored to the issue of refugees, taking into account political, legal, and ethical dimensions. There are five principles to serve as a basis for the institutional development of the regime:

planned re-location and resettlement
resettlement instead of temporary asylum
collective rights for local populations
international assistance for domestic measures
international burden-sharing

The paper argues against the extension of the definition of refugees under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and against any role of the UN Security Council. Instead, key elements of the proposal are a new legal instrument specifically tailored to the needs of climate refugees as well as a separate funding mechanism, the Climate Refugee Protection and Resettlement Fund. The serious impacts of climate change that will compel millions of people to leave their homes are largely predicted only for the second half of this century, based on the current state of climate science. However, the broad predictability of climate change impacts requires, and allows for, preparation and planning. The proposal therefore is framed not in terms of emergency response and disaster relief, but of planned and organised voluntary resettlement programmes.