UN Highlights Legal Gap in Climate Change-Related Displacement

unhcr-unitednations3 July 2014: The UN has published an interview with François Crépeau, UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, and José Riera, UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Senior Advisor, addressing the legal implications of climate change-related displacement.

In an interview with the UN News Centre, Crépeau underlines the absence of an international legal framework to accommodate “climate change refugees,” calling for “a great deal of political will” and imagination to negotiate large-scale transfers of populations from low-lying island States.

Pointing at a “gaping legal hole” in the absence of a designated UN agency charged with protection of people forced to migrate due to climate change-related disasters, Riera stresses the need for States to find solutions to the problem of climate change-related displacement.

Refering to the UN Secretary-General's 2012 report to the UN General Assembly (UNGA) on human rights and migration, Crépeau observes that most of climate change-induced migration is likely to occur within national borders as the most vulnerable are often unable to migrate across internationally. He thus calls for planned and facilitated migration policies along with involvement of partners, including civil society. Given the current scientific evidence, Crépeau notes that the situation is especially urgent for inhabitants of low-lying island States, questioning the legal implications of instances when a country is abandoned by its population due to climate change effects.

Ahead of the Third UN Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS), to be held in Apia, Samoa, in September 2014, and the ongoing UNFCCC negotiations towards a legally-binding treaty, Crépeau urges States to use “the vessel of the UN to do something.” [UN Press Release]