Protecting the Human Rights of Climate Displaced Persons: The Promise and Limits of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change

RESEARCH HANDBOOK ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT, A. Grear, L. Kotze, eds., Edward Elgar Publishing:UK, 2015

Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 15/24

22 Pages Posted: 27 Mar 2015 Last revised: 14 Jul 2016

See all articles by Rosemary Lyster

Rosemary Lyster

The University of Sydney Law School

Date Written: March 25, 2015

Abstract

This chapter confronts the definitional controversy which has endured for three decades over precisely how to define people who are displaced by climate change. Are they ‘refugees’, ‘migrants’ or ‘displaced persons’ and are these people displaced internally or across borders, and is their displacement voluntary or forced? The answer is not simply semantic for depending on the definition adopted, authors propose the application of different international law instruments in order to protect their human rights. There is even some suggestion that definitions have been adopted to pursue explicitly political agendas. The author, relying on a thorough literature review and recently emerging empirical evidence, prefers the term ‘climate displaced persons’ which can apply to those displaced internally and across borders whether voluntarily or by force, including the force of disasters. This is because current evidence suggests that people are generally displaced internally by climate extremes and disasters and that, even if they have been displaced across borders, they will want to return ‘home’ once the danger has passed. The author proposes that climate displaced persons should be formally recognised and protected under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), as is already beginning to occur. The existing institutions of the UNFCCC can be invoked to satisfy most of the concerns raised. However, there needs to be continuing convergence between various international law instruments and institutions to move beyond the ‘path dependency’ or ‘path exclusivity’ that has existed to date. Finally, the author is cognisant of the fact that even the finest international law instruments can fail to achieve their goals and that in the case of climate displaced persons there is a great risk of this unless the international community ensures that sufficient funds are made available for adaptation and the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage associated with Climate Change Impacts (the Warsaw Mechanism).

Keywords: Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, climate extremes and disasters, climate displaced persons, vulnerability, human rights, the Geneva Convention, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, adaptation, the Warsaw International Mechanism for Loss and Damage

JEL Classification: K10, K30, K32

Suggested Citation

Lyster, Rosemary, Protecting the Human Rights of Climate Displaced Persons: The Promise and Limits of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (March 25, 2015). RESEARCH HANDBOOK ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND THE ENVIRONMENT, A. Grear, L. Kotze, eds., Edward Elgar Publishing:UK, 2015, Sydney Law School Research Paper No. 15/24, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2585266

Rosemary Lyster (Contact Author)

The University of Sydney Law School ( email )

New Law Building, F10
The University of Sydney
Sydney, NSW 2006
Australia

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