Washington, D.C. – Refugees International welcomes today’s United Nations Security Council debate on the impact of climate change on international peace and security. In his statement to the Council, U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon acknowledged that “environmental refugees are reshaping the human geography of the planet, a trend that will only increase as deserts advance, forests are felled, and sea-levels rise.” Refugees International continues to urge the U.N. to undertake a fundamental review of the international community’s preparedness when it comes to addressing the needs of those displaced by large scale natural disasters.
“As the current situation in the Horn of Africa so tragically illustrates, weather-related disasters are forcing more and more people from their homes,” said Alice Thomas, Refugees International’s Climate Displacement Program Manager. “Any discussion about refugees and displacement must now also acknowledge this truth – climate displacement is happening today and will increase in the future as the full effects of climate change unfold.”
As early as 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change concluded that one of the most significant impacts of climate change will be on human mobility. In 2010, over 42 million people across the world were forced to flee their homes due to natural disasters – over 90% of which were climate-related. But the current international legal framework does not afford protection to people who are forced to cross international borders due to environmental or climate change factors.
The 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as someone who is outside the country of his or her nationality “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” However, the status of people fleeing from natural disasters is far less clear. Refugees International believes that the international community must address this gap before climate change has anywhere near the profound impact currently projected.
“International law provides no coherent or consistent approach to the protection needs of people displaced by climate change-related events,” said Ms. Thomas. “The international community has to prepare for the fact that hundreds of thousands of people may need protection as a result of climate change. At the moment, the world is nowhere close to being ready to deal with this.”
Refugees International is a Washington, DC-based organization that advocates to end refugee crises and receives no government or UN funding. For more information, go to www.refugeesinternational.org .