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Climate change and ensuing environment refugees

Climate change and ensuing rising sea levels, famines, droughts, and other natural disasters have caused an increasing number of people to face displacement globally.  There is an international body analyzing trends of internal displacement, Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, which has estimated that 24 million people get displaced by natural disasters annually since 2008. It seems that by the end of the century, about half a billion people worldwide will be “environmental refugees” due to environmental disasters.

While the UN Refugee Convention (1951) grants certain rights to people fleeing persecution because of religion, race, nationality, affiliation to a particular political opinion or social group. They are entitled to rights following principles of non-discrimination, non-refoulement, and non-penalisation. But people migrating because of environmental disasters do not have any recognition of  refugee  status under international law.

The Paris Agreement could have been a great opportunity to address the challenges faced by increasing environmental refugees. It could have been a great platform to recognize the threat posed to human safety and livelihoods by climate change, and migrants or environmental refugees displaced because of climate change; provide capacity building and technical support to national and local initiatives in handling such displacement; and developing suitable policies to manage loss and damage. But it fell short of all these expectations.
The victory of Donald Trump and Brexit signify the rising xenophobia towards immigrants. This heightens the need to recognize environmental refugees and their status endangering their survival.

While all three largest emitters of greenhouse gases - the U.S., India, and China have ratified the Paris Agreement, there is precious little being done to give it a more substantial form of implementation.  The problem must be resolved before the resulting disaster becomes irreparable.

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