The Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions. Conversations on the legal topics affecting businesses and individuals today.
In this episode, we will be introducing the topic of climate migration, asking what is climate migration? Why should we care about this issue? And while COP26 is ongoing in Glasgow, we examine why, in our view, it should be at the top of everyone’s agenda.
Hello and welcome to the Mishcon Academy Digital Sessions podcast and to the first episode in a series on climate migration. I am Maria Patsalos, a Partner in the Immigration Team here at Mishcon de Reya and I am joined in the studio by Becca Hird and Adis Sehic, both Associate Solicitors in the Immigration Team.
There have been various climate change developments across the globe recently which have been incredibly concerning. In particular, we have had heavy rainfall and flooding in Sudan and in Germany, forest fires in Greece and the US, as well as many more, including the recent volcanic eruption in the Canary Islands. As a result of all of these events, climate change has been put on the agenda in relation to the public mind and the media. As you will hear, there is a lot to unpick on this topic and going forward in each episode, we will be hearing from different voices in this space about what they think the key issues are and what we can be doing to help.
Becca, do you want to introduce the Climate Migration Project and our aims.
Thanks Maria. Very excitingly, earlier this year, we launched the Climate Migration Project here at Mishcon, with the aim of raising awareness and providing impetus to the global conversation surrounding climate migration. When we were establishing the project, a key focus of ours was on terminology. Interestingly, often in this space, people refer to climate refugees and indeed, the term climate refugee was added to the dictionary only this week, along with climate justice and climate strike. It’s important to note, however, that those displaced by climate are not protected under the 1951 Refugee Convention, reflecting perhaps the mixed messaging in this area and a lack of a clear definition of the issue. There is also much debate about how best to protect displaced communities in this context, whether to focus on creating legal pathways for protection or ensuring that there are sufficient resources, technology and infrastructure to allow the most vulnerable communities to build resilience to short and long-term climate events and changes. Our aim at the beginning of this project was to put the issue of climate migration firmly on the agenda at the UN Climate Change Conference and beyond. As a team of us prepare to head to Glasgow over the coming days, we’re launching this podcast to raise awareness of the issue, get people talking and share our findings from COP26. We’ve worked with stakeholders from a wide variety of institutions to explore the intersection between climate change and its effect on displaced communities and now we are working to put our research into action. Adis, do you want to perhaps explain to the audience what climate migration is?
Thanks Becca. Climate migration is not a concept that is easy to define and as we move through the series, we will be looking at different definitions and asking our esteemed guests their views on whether any definition is fit for purpose. Some of the most recognisable attempts at framing the issue include the 1998 UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement and the Kampala Convention in the African continent. This was the first legally binding instrument in the world to impose an obligation on states to protect and assist internally displaced persons, including those displaced by natural or manmade disasters and development projects. Some of the key difficulties in building more substantive frameworks in this context, have included the greater number of individuals who are internally displaced within their own countries rather than across borders and how to address the multicausal nature of human mobility. Displaced and affected communities have historically also been averse to any characterisations that would perpetuate the imagery of victimhood and a lack of agency. Way back in 1990, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, said that the greatest single impact of climate change could be on human migration flows, with millions of people being displaced from their homes by factors including coastal flooding and agricultural disruption. Since then, climate migration has become a firm reality and there are a wide variety of statistics that identify the effect that climate change has on patterns of migration. Analysts have tried to quantify the overall number of individuals that will be displaced by environmental factors in coming years but the data is broad and estimates vary widely. At the end of 2020, around 7 million people in 104 countries and territories were living in displacement as a result of disasters that happened, not only 2020 but in the previous years. The top 5 countries with the highest number of internally displaced persons due to disasters were Afghanistan with 1.1 million people, India with 929,000 people, Pakistan with 806,000 people, Ethiopia with 633,000 and finally, Sudan with a total of 454,000 people displaced.
That’s a really interesting point on the data there. Data in this area is a really difficult thing to capture. Not only do you have the difference between internally displaced people but those displaced across borders but you also have a variety of different agencies that collect data in this space. Presenting that in a coherent way and developing policy from that data, is certainly challenging and is something that many individuals in this space are looking to further. On the topic of data, at the very beginning of this project, we were interested to see what data the UK Government and the UK Home Office held on those displaced and affected by climate. We submitted a Freedom of Information Act request, asking the UK Home Office for information on whether climate migration was the basis for any visa applications of asylum claims or indeed if it featured as a part of any claims at all. Perhaps unsurprisingly, although still shockingly, the Home Office said that they did not record any data in this area. So, Maria, how does this topic fit into the general narrative and topic of climate change?
Thanks Becca. Politicians seem, at least outwardly, to acknowledge that climate change is the biggest challenge of our time and there has been much in the Press about reducing carbon emissions and the UK’s commitment to working with all countries to inspire action. In fact, there was a UN report in August issuing a Code Red alarm to all countries in relation to this issue and this was widely reported in the Press. Also, President Biden issued a Climate Report himself, which was recently published only in the last couple of weeks. Whilst the report was very detailed, including various agencies in the US Government and whilst it did emphasise the need to priorities vulnerable populations who will be most at risk from climate change, the overall feeling in relation to the report is that it doesn’t really tell us anything we didn’t know already. In fact, it’s really lacking in solutions and legal pathways out of the issues. As we speak, the UK is hosting the UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties, otherwise known as COP26, in Glasgow. But where does climate migration feature on the agenda? It is perhaps surprising that climate migration is not central to any of the COP agenda and having reviewed the various panels on at COP, there’s probably only about two that reference climate migration. However, we understand that there are various discussions relating to foreign aid which will hopefully address the issues of prevention and resilience for countries in the global south. In his remarks on the eve of COP26, Boris Johnson stated that “When the Roman Empire fell, it was largely as a result of uncontrolled immigration. The Empire could no longer control its borders, people came in from the east, all over the place, and we went into a Dark Ages. Europe went into a Dark Ages that lasted a very long time. The point of that is to say it can happen again. People should not be so conceited as to imagine that history is a one-way ratchet.” This sadly reflects the reality of the UK’s hostile environment, where there continues to be a lack of focus and conversation around climate migration and instead focusses more on tackling well-publicised illegal border crossings and the UK’s backlog of asylum cases instead. In other words, from a UK perspective, other areas of immigration, social and economic policy continue to shift the public focus away from climate migration. So, Adis, what is being done to move the conversation forward?
Thanks Maria. COP26 certainly feels like a pivotal moment in the world’s response to climate change, bringing together representatives from nearly 200 countries, including world leaders, experts and campaigners. The aim is to accelerate action towards the goals of the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change. In the context of climate migration, many stakeholders are hoping that representatives of the Global North States will be able to seriously tackle the issue of funding and relief or financial adaptation packages for states in the Global South who have historically been the most affected by this issue. The team here at Mishcon have been working on a number of exciting projects to take to COP26, including a Global Youth Climate Enquiry, where youth climate activists have fed into a powerful report focussing on the effects of climate change on young people from around the globe. We also hope to bring you exciting snippets from our conversations during our time in Glasgow as we speak to people in attendance about whether climate migration features at the top of their agenda. Becca, can you explain what Mishcon is hoping to do in this space and how we are hoping to push this topic up the agenda in the long term?
Sure. So alongside this podcast, we are focussing on communicating with the general public which will be incredibly important going forwards as the public are and continue to be, a major driver for change in this space. We are also looking to assist by providing appropriate platforms to those already working to promote the issue of climate migration and by linking key organisations, government groups and lobbyists, supporting experts already operating in this space. We are also looking into the possibility of creating a legal definition of climate migration and throughout this podcast we’ll be collaborating with other interested legal experts to explore this aim and further the conversation. Finally, we recognise the important role that litigation can play in this space and are working to identify and pursue key opportunities to bring strategic litigation to push the climate migration agenda forward.
Well, we’ve got a lot to do certainly. We’ve covered a lot of ground today already so, for now, let’s wrap up there. I’m Maria Patsalos, joined by Becca Hird and Adis Sehic and this was the first in a series of podcasts on the issue of climate migration. Do look out for the next episode in this series, where we will be discussing our experience at COP26 and whether climate migration featured at the top of anyone’s agenda.
The digital sessions are a series of online events, videos and podcasts, all available at Mishcon.com and if you have any questions you’d like us to answer or suggestions of what you’d like us to cover, do let us know at email@example.com. Until next time, take care.
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