Wednesday, 15 May 2013 11:15

Promoting Human Rights in the debate on Climate-Induced Migration

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In spite of the increasing importance of climate and environmental factors when triggering human displacements, it is necessary to emphasize their interaction with other social, economic and political factors so we can better understand migratory movements today.
The existence of more cohesive and supportive social, economic and political systems will be better placed to face climate impacts and enhance the adaptive capacity and resilience of communities to help avoid displacements. On the other hand, an increase in human migrations in search of better habitats to ensure a minimum level of subsistence might lead to communities suffering from increased resource scarcity and greater social inequalities and vulnerability to climate impacts. Considering these challenges for international human rights law, we may find that the negative impact of climate change on people’s livelihoods, economies and political structures, might lead to States becoming unable to fulfil their responsibilities to protect the lives and rights of its citizens. However, the issue of "environmental refugees" has not resulted in the mobilization of the international community in defence of their rights. The recognition of a new typology of refugees could impose excessive obligations for developed countries, either in terms of support and protection or economic terms. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) does not legally recognize the term "environmental refugee" because it can create confusion and undermine the international legal regime for the protection of refugees according to the Geneva Convention of 1951. It is interesting to recall the People’s Agreement of the World People's Conference on Climate Change and the Rights of Mother Earth held in Cochabamba, Bolivia in 2010:
 “Developed countries, as the main cause of climate change, in assuming their historical responsibility, must recognize and honour their climate debt in all of its dimensions as the basis for a just, effective, and scientific solution to climate change. In this context, we demand that developed countries: ... Assume responsibility for the hundreds of millions of people that will be forced to migrate due to the climate change caused by these countries, and eliminate their restrictive immigration policies, offering migrants a decent life with full human rights guarantees in their countries.”
While new protection frameworks are expected to be designed either inside or outside the Geneva Convention, or under the recognition of a climate debt, an approach to the problem from a human rights perspective is necessary from national and international authorities. There is a need to establish minimum standards of treatment based on human rights when dealing with human displacement due to climate change, to which all individuals are entitled, whether in their country of origin or in host communities; and which excludes any inhuman or degrading treatment. Similarly, when facing climate impacts, human rights protection frameworks might enable individuals to claim protection in a third country, based on the extended principle of "non-refoulement" under the framework of "complementary protection". But there are other rights linked to human rights, like the right to an adequate standard of living and the continuous improvement of living conditions, or the right not to be deprived of a means of a livelihood which are at stake under a changing climate. This could result in forcing populations to move and negatively affect their ability to hunt, fish, gather, or farm. Some of the answers come from an understanding of migration as an adaptive practice. But there is also the need to understand the importance of enhancing community responsiveness. The Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants said that "migration may in fact be an important adaptation strategy " but he also considered the right to not migrate, recalling the obligations of the international community to do everything possible to prevent forced migration. From these two different but complementary visions, we conclude with some practical answers from a rights-based approach: Understanding and advocating that those displaced by climate change are workers, often low-skilled and in need of protection; And because differential treatment between migrant and local workers undermines the basis of societies built around non-discrimination and human rights, and protecting their right to work as a means of generating remittances to their home communities in order to cope with climate impacts. The Multilateral Framework on Labour Migration of the International Labour Organization (ILO) can be of great importance in this regard. From the defence and promotion of basic levels of social protection for those who remain, to help build a more cohesive and cooperative societies to climate impacts, resulting in access to essential social transfers and services that can ensure universal access to essential medical services and basic incomes. Initiatives such as the Social Protection Floors, already developed in several countries that are facing both environmental degradation and deep inequality, may be an example to follow.
Read 1739 times Last modified on Tuesday, 10 February 2015 18:36
Jesús Marcos Gamero Rus

Jesús Marcos Gamero Rus es parte del Grupo de Investigación en Sociología del Cambio Climático y Desarrollo Sostenible de la Universidad Carlos III de Madrid. Su ámbito de trabajo esta orientado hacia el análisis de las dimensiones sociales y políticas del Cambio Climático, con una especial atención a los procesos migratorios. Ha trabajado para la Organización Internacional del Trabajo (OIT) ligando los procesos migratorios derivados del cambio climático con el mandato y las respuestas que se pueden dar desde las organizaciones del mundo del trabajo.

Jesús Marcos Gamero Rus is part of the Research Group on the Sociology of Climate Change and Sustainable Development at the Charles III University of Madrid. His research focuses on the analysis of the social and political dimensions of climate change, with specific attention to migratory processes. He has worked for the International Labour Organization (ILO) linking the migratory process as a result of climate change with the mandate and the responses from the world of work organizations.