IntroductionClimate change has become a major concern for theinternational community and it affects all regions around the world.
FromEurope to Asia, from melting ice and rising sea levels to extreme weatherconditions, such as more frequent heat waves, droughts, forest fires or floodsand wetter winters –depending on the area-, the consequences of climate changeare huge and they are not hypothetical; they are current reality. Bothdeveloped and developing countries are affected, but the last ones have itworse, since people that live there depend heavily on their natural environmentfor their living, considering that most people work on sectors that rely a loton temperature levels, such as agriculture, forestry and tourism. Theconsequences are big in society and economy as well, since heavy costs areimposed due to damage on infrastructure, property and human health. There is also one more very serious and importantcorollary of climate change and that is migration. To start with, it is quitedifficult to define what a climate refugee actually is. This happens becausewhen a person decides to move, they will probably have based their decision inquite a few reasons, none of which will be exclusively connected to climatechange. Although it is very hard to acquire reliable statistics, consideringthat we don’t know exactly what it is that we are counting, it is estimatedthat between 2008 and 2016 there was a total of 227.
6 millions of people beingdisplaced because of weather-related hazards. No nation is excluded fromclimate change, but there is a higher risk of displacement for the mostpopulous and exposed to hazards countries. Asia is very high on the scale ofdisplaced persons, due to its big areas, high population and the very frequentnatural hazards that occur there. However, according to the International Panelon Climate Change and when considering the ratio of total population to thedisplaced people, most of the Pacific nations come first in the scale.
Forexample, back in 2015, when Cyclone Pam occurred 25% of Tuvalu’s and 55% ofVanuatu’s population was displaced. Migration is not a new occurrence in the PacificNations. Through the last centuries, too many Pacific islanders have chosen theroad to migration in response to changes both in the environmental and in thesocial picture. Nowadays, the excess of contemporary migration from Pacificisland nations has resulted in a big part of the area’s population beingpermanently resettled abroad. It is reported that today about half a millionPacific islanders live overseas, which means one-fourth of the total populationof Micronesia and Polynesia combined. In parts of Polynesia, actually, morepeople reside in foreign land than in the home islands. On the other hand, in Melanesia migrationremains mostly internal, which means people affected by the climate changechoose to move to safest parts of their countries, instead of crossinginternational borders. It is stated that all Pacific island nations are vulnerableto changes caused by the climate change.
However, some communities will have toface immense challenges, such as rapid population growth, which will result inoverpopulation in areas with very limited resources, and limited prospects foreconomic improvement. Those are the atoll communities and countries, which areconsidered to be the most exposed and weak of all and are expected to become abig source for migrants and refugees related to climate change. As it can easily be understood, climate change is nota situation that only affects the land and the nature. The lives of millions ofpeople residing in those areas heavily rely on the outcome of this situationand when talking about migration or displacement, there needs to be awell-respected international context and agreement that protects the peoplethat are affected, something that currently does not exist and needs to becreated. Natureof movement, affected persons and applicable framework It is estimated that most of the movements caused byclimate change and environmental degradation will take place within a country’sborders. However, international movement is also very likely to happen in some occurrences.According to UNHCR’s official site and the Representative of theSecretary-General on the human rights of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs), WalterKälin, there are five main and different climate-related scenarios that maycause human movement and displacement. To start with, the first scenario is the one, whosecause of movement is the “hydro-meteorological extreme hazard events” thatoccur.
The hydro-meteorological disasters are caused by extreme meteorologicaland climate events, such as droughts, floods, hurricanes, typhoons, cyclones,tornados, landslides and mudslides. These occur in all parts of the world andaccount for a big fraction of natural disasters, although the frequency,intensity and vulnerability of certain hazards differ from region to region.Fatalities and infrastructure damage can be caused by disasters, like floodsand droughts, severe storms and strong winds. Apart from causing injuries,deaths and material damage though, a tropical storm is also able to result inflooding and mudslides, that cause disorder in water purification and sewage disposalsystems, as well as in overflow of toxic wastes and increase reproduction ofmosquito-borne diseases. As a result of those hazards, the people affected bythis type of events will have to move from the damaged regions, either by atemporary forced displacement within or outside of national borders, or atemporary voluntary movement across international borders. The second scenario refers to “areas designated byauthorities as prohibited and unsuitable for habitation”. As a result of all thetypes of hydro-meteorological disasters mentioned above, such as floods,droughts, hurricanes etc, some states are very likely to practice theirsovereign obligation to protect their citizens by labeling some zones ashigh-risk ones, which means that because of their location –this for examplecould mean that they are prone to floods or landslides-, they are too dangerousfor humans to continue living there. Therefore, governments may have to proceedwith applying forced evacuation and displacement of people from their lands, notallowing them to return to them and at the same time relocating them to safeareas within a country’s national borders.
To continue with, the third scenario is linked to “environmentaldegradation and slow onset extreme hazard events”. This could refer to droughtsand desertification, land and forest degradation, reduction of wateravailability, repetitive flooding, salinization and glacial retreat, which meansdeteriorating situations and hazards, whose impacts take from months to decadesto manifest. Once again, in such situations, the processes of movements willlikely be gradual beginning with voluntary movements (both within and outsideof national borders) and ending in forced displacement (again both within andoutside of national borders). The fourth scenario is about “significant permanentlosses in state territory as a result of sea level rise”