Bridging the Gap

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Bridging the Gap
With a population that is constantly expanding, problems surrounding climate change have become a major source of concern. Worldwide, countries are facing environmental changes that are having profound effects on the populace and each region’s economy. This essay will explain what is meant by the term climate change refugee, how governments determine whether or not an individual should be classified as an environmental refugee and which countries are most at risk from climate change. It will also examine the question of who is responsible for climate change refugees, what mitigation strategies are currently in place and what future proposals are being considered. Climate change refugee is a relatively recent term that has come into use more frequently since scientists became aware of global warming. The first refugees of the 20th century came about as a result of the First World War when millions of people fled their countries in search of a safe place to live. Governments at the time responded by creating international agreements on how they could best manage the influx of people to their countries. As future wars and internal conflicts continued over the remainder of the 20th century these guidelines were revised to adapt to the growing numbers of refugees and the problems associated with their flight. Strict guidelines were set in place to allow governments to determine who should be granted refugee status. The 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol are the only global guidelines for dealing with refugees. It states:

“a refugee is defined as a person who is outside his or her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of his or her race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail him or herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution” (UNHCR 2011, p.3) These guidelines do not take into account the growing number of people who have been displaced by climate change and many governments are undecided on how to manage this new type of refugee. Norman Myers defines climate change refugees (CCR’s) as people who are unable to financially support themselves or access safe living conditions in their homeland because of the effects of drought, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation and the associated problems of an increasing population and low standards of living. (Myers 2002, p. 609) Under current international law there is very little agreement on classification of environmental refugees. Classifications are ambiguous with a variety of terminology in use. Some of the more common terms over the years have been environmental or ecological refugees but these are being replaced with more neutral terms such as ecological migrants or ecomigrants. (Piguet 2008, p. 4) Climate change induced migration happens because of a wide variety of reasons and is also influenced by economical stability; how to determine who is most vulnerable is a continuing debate. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC):

“Individuals and communities are differentially exposed and vulnerable and this is based on factors such as wealth, education, race/ethnicity/religion, gender, age, class/caste, disability, and health status. Lack of resilience and capacity to anticipate, cope with, and adapt to extremes and change are important causal factors of vulnerability.” (IPCC 2012, p. 67) Due to the lack of agreement on how to classify CCR’s current international legal framework does not afford protection to people who are forced to cross international borders due to climate change. This means that under current laws people who flee to another country because of climate induced disasters are not offered the same rights as traditional refugees; such as the right to access work, housing, education, public relief and legal support. (UNHCR...
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