Legal and Practical Measures for Environmental Migrants
Sofia O’Connor*, Carl Bruch*,, and Miko Maekawa**
*Environmental Law Institute
1730 M Street NW, Suite 700, Washington, D.C. 20036, USA
**The Ocean Policy Research Institute, Sasakawa Peace Foundation, Tokyo, Japan
Recent years have seen dramatic growth in people migrating due to environmental shocks and changes. Many of these shocks and changes are climate-related. Environmental migration can occur due to sudden-onset events, such as hurricanes, floods, and heatwaves and slow-onset events, such as coastal erosion, sea level rise, and droughts. Migrants may move to temporary or permanent new housing, either locally or abroad, depending on the options available to them. They may return; many do not. Currently, there are few legal mechanisms that allow environmentally displaced persons to move or stay in new safe locations. Moreover, social and economic support that would allow them to adapt to their new surroundings is similarly scarce. As climatic events displace an increasing number of people, the search for legal mechanisms to protect and support environmental migrants has intensified, as has the search for complementary tools that ease the migrants’ transition in their countries of destination. While there is no international agreement that protects environmental migrants, there are legal tools and practical policy measures that countries can take on their own or in collaboration with others to alleviate struggles of environmental migrants. This article reviews a number of the available legal and policy measures. It starts with a brief review of the dynamics and scope of environmental migration. It then surveys legal options for managing environmental migrants, considering both the prospects for a comprehensive legal approach and the options for a toolbox approach. The article then turns to policy approaches for supporting livelihoods of environmental migrants, before taking a broad view of policy options.
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