UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

In search of recognition : environmental change and population displacement Bumstead, Lysandra S. N.


Twenty-four years have passed since Essam El-Hinnawi of the United Nations Environment Programme warned of a coming crisis of ‘environmental refugees.’ Yet, there is still no international legal framework protecting persons who have been displaced by environmental change. The current and expected exacerbation of climate- and environmental change indicate that environmentally induced displacement may already be occurring. Impoverished persons and states will suffer most, and responses to environmental displacement will largely be determined by states’ capacities for adaptation. Terminological, empirical, and other barriers have prevented the widespread acceptance of the concept of environmental displacement, but suggestions for modifying the existing international refugee regime are problematic. Despite the popularity of the term ‘environmental refugees,’ the majority of environmentally displaced persons in fact remains within their own borders. Thus, a modification of the Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement to acknowledge environmental change as a legitimate cause of human displacement should be applied as a short- to medium-term step toward broader recognition of the emerging issue. The application of the precautionary principle must replace the current business-as-usual attitude of the international community with respect to this emerging issue. The establishment of a proactive international regime to prevent and mitigate environmental displacement, and to offer protection to would-be environmentally displaced persons, will be crucial in sparing as many people as possible from forcible migration. Under a nascent protection regime, those who must move will at least have the legal recognition needed to better meet the challenges of adapting to their new and changing environments.

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