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Climate One

Monday, February 24 at 2:00 pm

Driving Forces: How Climate Fuels Human Migration

Climate instability is an increasing driver of human migration. But no one identifies themselves as a climate refugee.

“The Geneva Convention does not provide for persecution by climate change,” says Dina Ionesco, head of the Migration, Environment, and Climate Change Division at the U.N. Migration Agency. “It's something that talks to our spirits, to our hearts.  But you can’t have the status of a climate refugee today in our world.”

Yet even with erratic weather, extended droughts, and resource scarcity fueling political conflict and pressures on vulnerable rural livelihoods, Ionesco doesn’t believe that reopening the 1951 Refugee Convention is necessarily the best way to address the issue.

“First, a lot of this migration is internal,” she explains. “People are not crossing borders, they are not asking for third country protection, which is what defines in fact that refugee protection. And second of all… it’s very difficult to isolate climate change and environmental drivers from the other drivers.”

Oscar Chacon, co-founder and executive director of Alianza Americas, agrees that causes of migration need to be addressed at their source first.

“I think that there is still work to be done in countries of origin to actually prepare for the likely event that there will be even more severe changes coming down the pike in terms of climate change,” he says, adding that “changing laws in the U.S. to accommodate the inevitable reality of more people on the move is also part of what should be a much more realistic understanding and practice of shared international responsibility.”

Lauren Markham, a writer reporting on youth, migration and the environment, observed some of the root causes of climate migration after spending time in southern Guatemala.

“[The] relationship between poverty and gangs is huge and climate change in countries that are highly agrarian,” she notes. “Climate change is only leaving fewer options for farmers and fewer opportunities for people to lead any kind of realistic subsistence life.”

To listen to the audio of “Driving Forces: How Climate Fuels Human Migration” on Climate One online, please click HERE.