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The Impasse of International Law on Climate-Induced Migration: Recent Developments and the United Nation’s January 2020 Decision on Climate Refugees

This paper aims to lay out the challenges and potentially fatal conflicts inherent in the emerging attempts to respect state sovereignty while crafting progressive and truly responsive sets of approaches to a sui generis global problem like the climate crisis. It examines general approaches and practices on climate refugees within the scope of a critical legal framework, taking as an example the ‘Ioane Teitiota’ case that attracted public attention as an international issue starting in 2013. In addition, we will examine from a legal viewpoint and with an eye to future consequences, the January 2020 United Nations’ historical decision on climate refugees. We adopt Martti Koskennimi’s terms, ascending and descending justifications, to show the oscillation that the legal mind experiences in between order and will. In this paper, we will claim that the legal mind fights a battle that eventually ends up with a deadlock due to the very structure of modern law.

The Impasse of International Law on Climate-Induced Migration Recent Developments
Kiribati from the air, only a narrow strip of land in the middle of the ocean. With an average age of 22, Kiribati’s future generations are at risk of potentially lethal sea level rise. JONAS GRATZER / LightRocket via Getty Images
 

 

 

 

Introduction

 

Recent trends show that there has been a gradual increase in climate-induced migration around the world. In 2018, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) warned that “climate, environmental degradation, and natural disasters increasingly interact with the drivers of refugee movements.”1 The Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) analyzed data from 148 states and released the finding that 17.2 million people were displaced internally in 2018 as a result of climate change, whereas 10.8 million people were displaced due to violent conflicts.2 Following this, approximately seven million people left their homes due to climatic reasons in the first half of 2019.3 However, Myers predicted in 2002 that “200 million people overtaken by sea-level rise and coastal flooding, by disruptions of monsoon systems and other rainfall regimes, and by droughts of unprecedented severity and duration,”4 would emigrate in the coming years, while the IDMC demonstrated that around 265 million people already had to leave their country of origin owing to climate-related disasters between 2008-2018.5

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