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Building Global Governance for 'Climate Refugees'

IISD President-CEO Scott Vaughan and IISD Board Member Lloyd Axworthy, along with several representatives from various environmental NGOs, contributed to this G20 Insights policy brief on recognizing that forced displacement due to climate change is increasing. 


Global governance of displaced and trapped populations, forced migration and refugees is not prepared for the numbers likely to manifest under a changing climate. G20 has responsibility to prepare, push for reform, and initiate annual reviews to enhance a humanitarian response to aid climate mobility.

International policy and law build on the false assumption that displaced people and refugees can return to their place of origin when conditions improve, conflicts subside or homes are rebuilt. This cannot hold for many of those affected by climate change. Climate-induced migration is a broad phenomenon that defies existing definitions. Climate-induced disasters may cause sudden flight; desertification, sea-level rise, ocean acidification, and more frequent flooding may erode livelhoods slowly; conflicts aggravated by environmental change also produce "climate refugees"1 or migrants. Governance reform is therefore needed to strengthen rights and obligations of peoples and governments in countries of origin, transit, and destination.

1 "Climate refugee" is controversial, because it does not capture the diversity of situations those strongly affected by climate change can find themselves in, and because of the specific legal meaning of "refugee".

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