Written by Joanna Apap with with Sami James Harju (updated on 05.10.2023).
According to recent statistics published by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, over 376 million people around the world have been forcibly displaced by floods, windstorms, earthquakes or droughts since 2008, with a record 32.6 million in 2022 alone. Since 2020, there has been an annual increase in the total number of displaced people due to disaster compared with the previous decade of 41 % on average. The upward trend is alarmingly clear. With climate change as the driving catalyst, the number of ‘climate refugees’ will continue to rise. The Institute for Economics and Peace predicts that in the worst-case scenario, 1.2 billion people could be displaced by 2050 due to natural disasters and other ecological threats.
Despite steps in the right direction, national and international responses to this challenge remain limited, and protection for those affected inadequate. There is no clear definition of a ‘climate refugee’, nor are climate refugees covered by the 1951 Refugee Convention. The latter covers only people who have a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, and who are unable or unwilling to seek protection from their home countries. This means that climate cannot currently be cited as a reason for seeking asylum or refugee status, although the 2018 Global Compact for Migration, in its second objective, cites climate as a potential reason for migration. While the EU has not formally recognised ‘climate refugees’, it has expressed growing concern and has taken action to support and develop resilience in countries most vulnerable to climate-related stress.
This briefing is an update of an earlier version published in October 2021.
Read the complete briefing on ‘The concept of ‘climate refugee’: Towards a possible definition‘ in the Think Tank pages of the European Parliament.
Listen to policy podcast ‘The concept of ‘climate refugee’: Towards a possible definition’ on YouTube.