6 Nov 2017
UNHCR and protection and assistance for the victims of climate change
Journal article by Elisa Fornalé and Curtis Doebbler in The Geographical Journal, December 2017, Volume 183, Issue 4, in the themed section co-edited by Elisa Fornalé and Andrew Baldwin.
ABSTRACT: This contribution argues that despite the fact that the United Nations Refugee Convention does not cover persons subject to climate change induced displacement, these people should be protected by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This is the case because UNHCR's own Executive Committee has incorporated the broader African definition of a refugee that does include climate refugees into their protection mandate. We therefore conclude that UNHCR should exercise protection activities over climate refugees to be consistent with the mandate given to this United Nations programme by international law. To arrive at this conclusion we first briefly introduce the question about the protection of climate change induced displacement in the social science debate. We examine the legal definitions of refugees, agreeing with the most common interpretations of both United Nations and regional instruments. We then indicate how, by expressly extending its mandate, UNHCR itself has taken on the responsibility for the protection of people subject to climate change induced displacement. Finally, we report how, despite this mandate, UNHCR is still refusing to exercise its mandate properly, and that if it were to do so, a significant step could be taken in ensuring the protection of people subject to climate change induced displacement.