“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.

For Immediate Release: International migrant rights groups join New York climate march, urge durable solutions and human rights commitments in addressing climate crisis

Press Advisory, 21 September 2014

An international delegation of migrant rights advocates will join the massive People’s Climate March on September 21, 2014 and the People’s Climate Justice Summit on September 22-23, 2014 in New York City. The delegation will promote greater collaboration between the migrants’ rights and climate justice movements while urging governments to adopt human rights and nature-centred solutions to the global climate crisis.

The representatives from Asia, Africa, Europe, Mexico and the United States are members of the Global Coalition on Migration (GCM), an international coalition of migrant associations and rights organizations, and advocacy, trade union, faith, and academic institutions.

Across the world, migrants and their families are among the many communities on the frontlines of the climate crisis. Those displaced by climate catastrophes are disproportionately farmers/rural populations, the working class, indigenous peoples, and communities of colour. Displacement of these populations will increasingly become a major driver of forced migration. For those forced to migrate due to climate crises, tough immigration laws, the intensification of immigration enforcement measures at borders, and the criminalization of migrant communities expose them to further hardship and exploitation.

For example, in Asia, extreme weather events continue to intensify in severity and frequency. An estimated 30 million people were displaced across Asia in 2010 alone due to the climate crisis;; this number will continue to grow with a lasting toll on lives, economies, and society. Social movements in Asia, including migrants, rural communities, workers, and women are calling for legally-binding and massive cuts in greenhouse gas emissions by all countries and the development of concrete, rights-based solutions based on respect for the integrity and interdependence of nature and people.

Mamadou Goïta of the Institut de Recherche et de Promotion des Alternatives en Développement (IRPAD) in Mali and representative of the Pan-African Network in Defense of Migrant Rights (PANiDMR), will testify on Monday at the People’s Climate Justice Summit tribunal, highlighting the intersection between climate change and migration in the African context.

Among the issues that the GCM delegation will address is the emerging use of the term “climate refugee” or “climate migrant” to describe those displaced by climate-related events. The GCM urges caution in the use of such terms, which risk oversimplifying the root causes of displacement — namely the the unjust global economic and political system that has given rise to the global climate crisis in the first place. The GCM further argues that this categorization creates a false hierarchy among low-skilled migrants from the Global South, who are subject to the injustices of the global economy that make migration necessary for survival.

According to Colin Rajah, GCM Coordinator, “Only through durable solutions for climate justice and guaranteed protections of migrants’ rights can a just transition to a safe, sustainable, and equitable economy and ecology be realized.”


#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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