Jun 4, 2020

Climate change is the variation of temperature and standard weather forms in a particular place on the planet. Climate change is currently taking place throughout the world as an effect of global warming and majorly due to human activities. Activities such as burning fossil fuels released harmful gases into the Earth’s atmosphere. Further, these gases capture the heat from the rays of the sun inside the air, causing global warming or an increase in the Earth's entire temperature. Due to situations like these, people are often forced to flee their homes due to human violence: war, terrorism, and persecution who are known as refugees? Thus, climate refugees are those migrants who are obligated to move from their homes to somewhere else due to climatic conditions like- flood, cyclone, etc.

In most of the cases, people are displaced across the borders due to climate change and disasters. In times like these, International law plays a significant role because those migrants require international protection. Therefore, this phenomenon of a climate refugee has a substantial role in this subject. 

Although, international law deals with only political refugees, and the definitions do not extend to the climate refugees. The same can be implied from the definition of the refugees provided in the 1951 Geneva Convention on Refugees Which was adopted in the aftermath of World War II?

The UN Agency, who, for a long time, is in charge of refugees, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), refused to accept that environmental or the climate refugees were required to be known or taken as a separate category in order to receive proper protection.  Also, there we people who thought that the term ‘climate refugee’ is an ambiguous one. Since the incidents related to climate or weather have started occurring more and the climate refugees have also increased. Therefore, the UNHCR has altered its position radically and considered this matter. UNCHCR also established an Advisory Group on Climate Change and Human Mobility. On the other hand, the International Organisation for Migration, always spoken about the issue of environmental migrants, and since it became an associated agency of the UN, it also provided the opportunity to work with the UNHCR to address the dilemma of climate refugees. Though the definition of refugees is very narrow, still the UNHCR has helped victims of disasters. 

Climate refugees are different from migrants. If we talk about migration, people migrate for better incomes, education, and healthcare. But what separates these climate refugees are the fact that it is involuntary. It includes hunger, disease, disability, and even death. It is one of the most complex decisions. The irony is that the people who are forced to migrate are not also responsible for the disaster. It is always the rural poor who suffer. They are the ones with limited means, and their lives and livelihoods are the hardest hit during these times. Disadvantages can occur to women and children in particular as well. In India, the poverty level is increasing every year. A large part of our country stays in rural areas and is prone to these disasters thus, forcing them to migrate either to some urban areas (in migration) or even to state as well (cross border migration). Due to situations like these, the cities or the urban zones become overpopulated and become more vulnerable to climatic changes. Due to this, the agriculture sector also gets affected.

However, some people are unable to move, for instance, women, children, or people belonging to a lower caste and are left in stressful environments that worsen their vulnerability. For example in Muzaffarpur, Bihar, it was found that the banks which were built to deal with floods caused women losing privacy to go to the toilet and thus they had reduced their food consumption to one meal a day to avoid going to washrooms; children facing frequent disturbances in education as schools remain closed; and Schedule Caste families occupying low-lying and unprotected sides of the embankment, exposing them to flood anyway.

India needs to respond to this climate crisis in a practical way, including development policies. India has committed to the Paris Agreement, showing hopeful signs on climate action. Climate action and inclusive development policies at the rural and urban ends can reduce and decrease the worst effects of the wave and provide an opportunity to create a more economically and culturally prosperous and robust society.