February 2010, Vol. 10, No. 1, Pages 60-88
Posted Online February 16, 2010.
© 2010 by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Preparing for a Warmer World: Towards a Global Governance System to Protect Climate Refugees
Frank Biermann is Professor and Head of the Department of Environmental Policy Analysis of the Institute for Environmental Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands. He is also Director-general of the Netherlands Research School for the Socio-economic and Natural Sciences of the Environment (SENSE); Director of the Global Governance Project, a network of twelve European research institutions (glogov.org); and Chair of the Earth System Governance Project, a ten-year global research program under the auspices of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change. His most recent publications are Global Climate Governance Beyond 2012: Architecture, Agency and Adaptation (ed. with P. Pattberg and F. Zelli, 2010); Managers of Global Change: The Influence of International Environmental Bureaucracies (ed. with B. Siebenhüner, 2009); and International Organizations in Global Environmental Governance (ed. with B. Siebenhüner and A. Schreyögg, 2009).Ingrid Boas
Ingrid Boas is a political scientist with the Department of Environmental Policy Analysis of the Institute for Environmental Studies at the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Her research focuses on climate governance, in particular global adaptation governance, and participatory practices in Dutch water management. She is the coordinator of the Climate Refugee Policy Forum of the EU-based Global Governance Project; coordinator of the Amsterdam-based research activities of the Earth System Governance Project, a ten-year global research program under the auspices of the International Human Dimensions Programme on Global Environmental Change; and manager of the 2009 Amsterdam Conference on the Human Dimensions of Global Environmental Change.
Climate change threatens to cause the largest refugee crisis in human history. Millions of people, largely in Africa and Asia, might be forced to leave their homes to seek refuge in other places or countries over the course of the century. Yet the current institutions, organizations, and funding mechanisms are not sufficiently equipped to deal with this looming crisis. The situation calls for new governance. We outline and discuss in this article a blueprint for a global governance architecture for the protection and voluntary resettlement of climate refugees—defined as people who have to leave their habitats because of sudden or gradual alterations in their natural environment related to one of three impacts of climate change: sea-level rise, extreme weather events, and drought and water scarcity. We provide an extensive review of current estimates of likely numbers and probable regions of origin of climate refugees. With a view to existing institutions, we argue against the extension of the definition of refugees under the 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Key elements of our proposal are, instead, a new legal instrument specifically tailored for the needs of climate refugees—a Protocol on Recognition, Protection, and Resettlement of Climate Refugees to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change—as well as a separate funding mechanism.