“The Making of a Climate Refugee”

Published in Foreign Policy, January 2015

Recent coverage in Foreign Policy of the legal challenge in New Zealand courts that could result in recognition of the world’s first “climate refugee.” Read the full article here.

Teitiota is a contender to become the world’s first climate refugee, albeit an accidental one. So far, New Zealand courts have ruled that, “it wasn’t their place to expand the scope of the international refugee convention to cover those displaced by climate change.”


…uncertainty has contributed to the international interest in Teitiota’s case, which, through the courts, could carve its own protected legal path for climate refugees. If successful, it would “set off an avalanche as a precedent,” said Colin Rajah, the international coordinator of the Global Coalition on Migration, a Geneva-based migrant rights advocacy group. That said, he fears the case was doomed from the start: “On a purely legal and practical level, the push to qualify someone displaced by climate as a refugee isn’t going anywhere soon.”

In part, this is because it’s rare to find a country eager to accept more refugees—
particularly a new category of refugees that could quickly add up to the millions. Moreover, as a practical matter, it’s difficult to determine whether anyone moves exclusively for climatic or other environmental reasons. That’s especially true in the case of slow-onset crises such as rising sea levels and advancing desertification from drought. Often, an ensuing disaster is merely an event that has pushed a migrant past the point of endurance, exacerbating existing economic strains or other troubles. Poor people have less resilience, and when they live in countries with little capacity to help them, they are doubly at risk.

Yet until the international community takes climate migration more seriously, there could be a day when people from Kiribati wind up in fenced refugee camps, rather than resettled into homes in a new country. And though Tong encourages his people to plan their exit strategy early, it will be all for naught if countries are not willing to take them in. He may not realize it, but Tong’s vision for his people’s future, in many ways, is the story of someone who has already left Kiribati: Ioane Teitiota.

Read more…

GCM Participation at COP20 — Lima, Peru

IMG_9481From December 6-8, GCM participated in the People’s Summit on Climate Change and the Rights of Nature Tribunal, parallel events to COP20, in Lima, Peru. GCM participated as part of the Climate Space, a loose configuration of grassroots organizations globally that have been engaging in advocacy around the COPs for many years. Groups within the Climate Space used opportunities during the People’s Summit and tribunal to discuss next steps in the lead-up to COP21 in Paris, France next year.

Highlights from Lima

Rights of Nature Tribunal

The Rights of Nature Tribunal was led by a panel of 13 “judges” who heard testimonies from experts and witnesses from grassroots communities affected by climate change. Cases addressed the impacts of climate change, extractive industries, and deforestation, and included critiques of “techno-solutions” like Climate Smart Agriculture and geo-engineering. Accounts of displacement were shared in a number of testimonies.

  • A witness from the Brazilian Amazon discussed a hydroelectric dam project that will displace 20,000 people and affect the livelihoods of thousands more.
  • An anti-REDD campaigner from Liberia highlighted the damaging impacts of oil extraction and related inter-group conflict that has led to the displacement of many communities—what he called “climate refugees.”
  • Mention of migrant workers employed in extractive industries that are damaging indigenous lands in the United States highlighted the complexities of the relationship between climate and migration and the need for solidarity among all those affected.

WeCan Workshop (Women’s Earth & Climate Action Network)

The WeCan workshop highlighted the voices of women, particularly Indigenous women, who are often excluded from the COP negotiations. Participants highlighted women’s leadership in struggles for climate justice, linking these struggles to the wider struggles against colonial oppression and violence. Presentations highlighted the importance of solidarity with all affected communities.

Climate Space Discussions

Participation on the outside of the COP is the priority for Climate Space organizers, as there is a need to continue to build advocacy and international solidarity and to gain more clarity on the analysis of root causes and false solutions. This sentiment echoes GCM’s impressions from our activities in New York in September, 2014. There, GCM members expressed interest in engaging with civil society groups advocating for climate justice globally, with the aim of developing our collective analysis on the intersections between migrants’ rights and climate justice.

It was evident from the workshops and conversations among Climate Space groups in Peru that there is a need to deepen the current discourse on migrants’ rights and climate justice, which is currently focused mainly on the “climate refugee” concept. Bringing a human rights-based analysis into the discussion and highlighting the complexities of climate and migration will be important parts of our engagement going forward.

#ClimateAction is #MigrantRights – GCM Participation in the People’s Climate March & Climate Summit, NYC

Banner - Climate ActionNext week, the UN will convene a major Climate Summit, preceding the opening of the 69th Session of the UN General Assembly. In response to this UN climate initiative, a massive march — People’s Climate March — is being organized in New York City, calling government attention to the need for governments to adopt real, human rights & nature-centred solutions to the climate crisis.

The GCM, our friends, and allies will march with grassroots communities at the front of the march and will also participate in the subsequent People’s Climate Justice Summit to deepen our analysis on the intersections between climate change and migration, and to strengthen our alliances with the climate justice movement.

Check for updates throughout the week via our Twitter feed – @GCMigration.

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