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The Nexus of International Migration and Climate Change

Environmental Policy
Migration
International
Philip Hanke
Universität Bern
Philip Hanke
Universität Bern

Abstract

Climate change has affected global migration patterns and will most likely continue to do so in the future. Agriculture-based areas are and will be confronted with droughts and floods, thus leading to reduced livelihoods. Fertile land will become a scarcer resource and thus a potential cause for violent conflicts. Rising sea levels might not only induce individual people to migrate, but pose existential problems to entire countries, most notably small Pacific island nations. Climate change and migration are increasingly seen as a nexus. However, the lack of reciprocity prevents comprehensive international arrangements that either mitigate and avert the causes of migration, or provide sufficient protection for people affected by adverse environment. Both migration law and climate change regulation are fields in which reciprocity is difficult to create as both phenomena are generally uni-directional. The causal link between and the identities of the polluters and the victims remain elusive. Combining different fields of regulation then allows establishing the possibility of reciprocity. The fact that environmental migration is not treated as a stand-alone issue is an epitome for the structure of international migration law in a wider sense. In fact, this field of law, similarly to international environmental law, is constituted by an intricate web of legal sources at various vertical levels of government. The question of climate-induced migration has been embedded into a variety of legal instruments and international processes: regional refugee conventions, multilateral climate change negotiations, but also very dynamic, ad-hoc bilateral arrangements. Some states unilaterally provide protection and admission to migrants displaced due to environmental reasons or disaster. The status of such migrants, depending on the legal regime that governed their relocation and the specific circumstances, may thus be a more precarious one than that of other migrants. The international legal framework is thus void of coherence and clear objectives.Embedding environmental migration in international climate change agreements can thus also be a way of linking issues and negotiating a comprehensive package. Conceivably, other venues could serve as catalyst, similarly to provisions regarding the movement of cross-border service providers that can be found within the framework of the WTO and GATS, as well as bilateral trade agreements. It thus needs to be discussed how additional embedding can take place and how negotiations leading to better protection of environmental migrants can be engineered.