Research Handbook on Climate Change, Migration and the Law
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Research Handbook on Climate Change, Migration and the Law

Edited by Benoît Mayer and François Crépeau

This comprehensive Research Handbook provides an overview of the debates on how the law does, and could, relate to migration exacerbated by climate change. It contains conceptual chapters on the relationship between climate change, migration and the law, as well as doctrinal and prospective discussions regarding legal developments in different domestic contexts and in international governance.
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Chapter 5: The inadequacy of international refugee law in response to environmental migration

Christel Cournil


This chapter reflects on the limited relevance of the international protection of refugees. It examines in particular the key text that is the 1951 ‘Geneva’ Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, showing that this treaty is unable to address the issue of environmental migration although it may imply some possible approaches by analogy. The Geneva Convention was adopted in a different context, with little awareness of environmental factors of migration. Section I contrasts current circumstances from the context of the Geneva Convention, showing the difficulty of adapting the Geneva Convention to environmental factors of migration. Section II looks at the obstacles resulting from the individual determination of refugee status. Section III highlights the difficulty of recognizing a form of ‘persecution’ when individuals are displaced by environmental factors. Section IV recalls that the protection of refugees only applies to individuals who cross international borders, whereas environmental factors that force individuals to flee do not often force them to cross an international border. As a conclusion, individuals displaced in the context of climate change or more generally by environmental factors, even when they are ‘forced’ to flee and are in an urgent need for international protection, do not generally qualify for international protection under international refugee law.

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