As climate change makes our planet less habitable because of natural disasters, conflict over resources and the deterioration of the environment, people need to adapt. This may cause them to migrate in order to survive.
Although people who migrate due to climate change normally stay within their country of origin, they also cross international borders. And when people move between nations for environmental reasons, they face additional problems.
Since people migrating because of changes in the natural world do not fit the standard characteristics of a refugee – developed out of the 1951 Refugee Convention – they are not protected or guaranteed assistance under international refugee law. As a result, these ‘environmental refugees’ are a particular challenge for states.
Also, although the number of people migrating due to climate change and in need of protection is only bound to increase, the definition of a refugee under the 1951 Refugee Convention seems unlikely to expand to include an ‘environmental’ category.
Women and children are at particular risk of being forced to flee their homes due to climate change, and they account for a significant proportion of those affected. Children can’t go to school when disaster strikes, although effort is made to provide them with an education as quickly as possible.
But as climate change occurs at a slower rate than other disasters – causing drought and a rise in sea levels – providing basic services for these refugees is more complicated. How and when the right mechanisms should be put in place to protect women and children’s rights as effectively as possible becomes even more crucial.
For example, a family exposed to drought may face hunger and are less likely to send the children to school and afford health care. Also, children are less able to face hardship due to their relative inability to take care of themselves.
However, it’s important to see children and young people as part of the answer to helping those moving because of our changing climate, and allow them to contribute their desire and ability to find creative and durable solutions. As former Secretary General of Terre des Hommes Ignacio Packer said in a speech recently: “if we do not address the environmental issues, we will always fall short in realising children’s rights”.
No matter what the status of a child is, a child is first and foremost a child. If children need protection but are not considered refugees fleeing persecution, they still have the right to protection under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Some members of the international community are currently tackling the issue. Nevertheless, countries disproportionately affected by climate change in particular are urging other nations to act faster and stronger.
For example, the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s principle of ‘common but differentiated responsibilities’ has been echoed repeatedly. Countries on the frontline of the battle against climate change are pleading to states historically benefitting from it to take a certain responsibility.
While understanding and awareness of climate change and human mobility is increasing, collaboration between states and civil society will need to strengthen in order to better protect all people on the move.
The Initiative on Child Rights in the Global Compacts, assembled by Terre des Hommes and Save the Children, aims to ensure that the rights of children on the move and other children affected by migration are respected and fulfilled. This initiative will be an important tool in protecting the rights of children forced to migrate in search of a better life – whether because of climate change, conflict, poverty or any other motivating factor.
More advocates and policy makers must let more young people – particularly those forced to move due to climate change – engage in this very topic. After all, the damage climate change could inflict upon our planet will affect nobody more than them.
About the author: Carl Kristiansson is a Board Member of Destination Unknown campaign member One Third, an association raising the voices of young people on migration and development issues in Sweden.You might be interested in other: Blog News
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