Climate justice campaigns and environmental refugees

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Star, Cassandra
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Macquarie University
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This paper is a preliminary discussion of the connections between environmental and human security through the notion of environmental refugees. The concept of environmental refugees appeared in a 1985 paper that argued while the term may be legitimate, such a category of refugees would constitute a minor part of the world’s refugee population, if at all. Later discussions by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and Norman Meyer contradict this position with estimates of up to 200 million environmental refugees by 2050. These latter predictions are currently endorsed by non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working in the areas of refugees and global environmental issues. Of particular interest has been Friends of the Earth’s Climate Justice campaign, and Rising Tide International’s Climate Justice Network. These NGOs and others argue that this humanitarian impact of global climate change presents significant issues for the Asia Pacific region. Environmental refugees are estimated to flow in the millions in Australia’s neighbourhood as a result of global warming. However, environmental refugees do not appear in the 1951 Refugee Convention, which conceives of refugees mainly in terms of political and social rights, particularly as expressed in the Universal Declaration on Human Rights. Thus, while NGOs present a convincing case for the legitimacy of the rights of environmental refugees, international law does not recognise their plight. This paper argues that the NGO focus on environmental justice within these campaigns opens up critical space for the concept of environmental refugees and new discussions around a human right to environment.
Star, C., 2004. Climate justice campaigns and environmental refugees. Ecopolitics XV: Environmental Governance: Transforming Regions and Localities.