Written by France 24

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is posed to address the climate refugee crisis in its 2019 session in Los Angeles, California.  This will be the most comprehensive discussion on the topic in the body’s history, with an aim of codifying international norms and legislation surrounding persons displaced in the context of climate change.

As climate disasters increase in frequency around the globe and international law does not yet recognize environmental distress as grounds for refugee status, the UNHCR will aim to create a lasting framework for these displaced persons.

Climate change has been recognized around the globe as one of the largest threats to human flourishing in our time. Due to increasing carbon emissions caused by human activity, the planet has warmed at a rate unseen before in human history. While the planet has experienced ice ages and warm periods in its trillion-year history, the rate at which humans have emitted carbon into the atmosphere has led to massive changes in the Earth’s climate.

While some doubt that humans have caused this warming, most of the international now agrees that man-made climate change is a pressing global problem, and the most recent effort to address the topic was through the December 2015 Paris Agreement that aimed to limit warming to three degrees celsius.

These changes in the Earth’s climate have led to large-scale climate disasters, including increased volcanic activity, more powerful hurricanes, and increased drought. Climate disasters increase the number of displaced people, as many individuals flee their homes and their countries to avoid falling victim.

International law, however, does not yet recognize environmental displacement as legal grounds for refugee status, which is essential for resettlement in a new country. The 1951 Refugee Convention currently allows for “zero status under international law” for those affected by climate disasters, leaving potentially thousands without a home or country.

The UNHCR is hoping to address this gap in the legal framework through their summit this weekend.

The UNHCR was created in the aftermath of World War II in order to aid the 400,000 migrants left displaced by the war.  Since 1950, the organization has aided migrants in Europe, the Middle East, Africa, and South America, among other regions, by coordinating sister organizations in a cluster approach that aims to address all aspects of a crisis. These aspects include education, advocacy, food aid, and engaging in peace processes.