Climate change-induced displacement: definitional issues and concerns

Mostafa Mahmud Naser

Research output: Contribution to Newspaper/Magazine/WebsiteArticle


The impacts of climate change are likely to affect the lives of millions of people around the globe. With the predicted dangers of climate change displacement, the existing international legal framework and its laws and institutions do not adequately address the emerging crisis. There is no legally binding mechanism of protection or support for persons displaced due to environmental reasons. Even no internationally accepted term exists to date to define this category of people. While some scholars and international organizations, including the United Nations Environment Programme (“UNEP”), refer to the terms such as environmental refugee and climate change refugee, such groups have no legal basis in international refugee law. There is consensus among concerned intergovernmental agencies not to use these terms following the strong position of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (“UNHCR”) and the International Organization for Migration (“IOM”). Instead they suggest terms such as “environmental migrants”, “climate change migrants” or “environmentally displaced persons” as alternatives. Thus disagreements surround the conceptualization of the issue. However, it is important from a legal perspective, because the development of law and policy framework depends on how the issue of climate change displacement is characterized. It has significant governance implications as well as implications for determining the nature and extent of procedural, thematic and institutional frameworks. In this context, this article provides an overview of definitions to describe existing environmental or climate change refugees to show the diversity of opinions regarding the climate change displaced persons. It addresses the lack of consensus among scholars on definitional issues relating to climate change-induced displacement. Based on these analyses, it proposes a working definition of climate change displaced persons to articulate the issue.
Original languageEnglish
Number of pages52
Specialist publicationChicago-Kent journal of environmental and energy law
PublisherIllinois Institute of Technology, Chicago - Kent College of Law
Publication statusPublished - 2011
Externally publishedYes


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