International legal regime inadequate to tackle climate change, says NGO

The Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD) has said that international law is inadequate to deal with millions of people forecast to become `climate exiles’ in the face of escalating climate change.

A statement issued yesterday in Dar es Salaam by Inter Governmental Panel on Climate Change, (IPCC), said during the occasion to mark its twentieth anniversary today, FIELD would highlight how international legal framework is unprepared to deal with the victims of climate change.

“Although estimates vary, between 200 million and one billion people could become displaced by climate change by 2050,” the statement read in part.

The statement said although some of these figures have been questioned, it is clear that the international community needs to prepare for the likelihood that some small island countries and low-lying territories will be lost.

As climate exiles have no standing in existing international law, this raises unprecedented legal challenges said FIELD in the statement.

“There are currently no legal frameworks or guidelines that can provide assistance or protection for people crossing borders because of displacement due to climate change,” the statement added.

Climate change is expected to hit developing countries the hardest. Its effects—higher temperatures, rising sea levels, food insecurity and more frequent weather-related disasters—pose risks for agriculture, food, and water supplies causing chaos for millions of people. The so-called ‘climate hotspots’ – low lying islands, coastal regions, large river deltas and underdeveloped regions – remain in danger of catastrophic environmental change.

Particularly vulnerable are small island states. The entire population of the CarteretIslands of Papua New Guinea, are the first people to be officially evacuated due to climate change. Others, such as Kiribati or the Marshall Islands, may disappear completely or become uninhabitable making their populations stateless. Kiribati has already started searching for a new home for future generations, according to the statement.

Under current international law, any climate-induced, cross-border migrations from these areas would trigger little of any protection or provide aid, it added.

FIELD Director Joy Hyvarinen said in the statement: “International refugee law focuses on those who are persecuted for political, racial or religious reasons. It was not designed for those who are left homeless by environmental pressure”.

“Migration in itself is not bad, but migration forced by climate change is a tragedy and the international legal framework needs to be adjusted to help climate exiles and deal with statelessness and compensation.”

So far IPCC has suggested that more than 600 million people currently living in low-lying coastal zones – 438 million in Asia and 246 million in least developed countries – will be directly at risk to potential threats of climate change in this century.



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