Climate Change, Race, and Migration

Journal of Law and Political Economy vol. 1, pp. 109-146 (2020)

39 Pages Posted: 18 Nov 2020 Last revised: 22 Dec 2020

See all articles by Carmen G. Gonzalez

Carmen G. Gonzalez

Loyola University Chicago School of Law

Date Written: October 20, 2020


This article argues that climate change cannot be addressed unless we dismantle the racial hierarchies that have facilitated massive, unchecked resource extraction. Drawing upon the framework of racial capitalism, the article explains how racism enables states and corporations to pursue policies catastrophic to the planet and its inhabitants because the most immediate and severe harms are inflicted on stigmatized populations in the sacrifice zones of the fossil fuel economy. From Cancer Alley to the oil fields of the Middle East, racialized populations have been subjected to the physical violence of invasion and occupation as well as the “slow violence” of polluting industry. Persons classified as non-white are also disproportionately susceptible to climate-related disasters and displacement because they reside in vulnerable geographic locations and have been deprived of the resources to protect themselves from harm. International law has mounted an inadequate response to the climate crisis. The climate treaties have failed to curb global temperature increases or to provide sufficient adaptation assistance to climate-vulnerable states and peoples. Even though climate change threatens to displace millions of people, neither the 1951 Refugee Convention nor the climate treaties requires states to admit climate-displaced persons. In the absence of a binding legal framework, several emerging law and policy responses to climate displacement threaten to reinforce racialized hierarchies and to trap large segments of humanity in places that are becoming uninhabitable. The article critiques these approaches and offers alternatives grounded in the perspectives and priorities of climate-vulnerable states and peoples.

Keywords: racial capitalism, climate change, migration, international law, racism, displacement, carbon capitalism

Suggested Citation

Gonzalez, Carmen G., Climate Change, Race, and Migration (October 20, 2020). Journal of Law and Political Economy vol. 1, pp. 109-146 (2020), Available at SSRN:

Carmen G. Gonzalez (Contact Author)

Loyola University Chicago School of Law ( email )

25 E. Pearson
Chicago, IL 60611
United States

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