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Refugee as defined by the 1951 Refugee Convention: “someone who is unable or unwilling to return to their country of origin owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion.” This group of people have the right to seek asylum across borders according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. People fleeing their homes from natural disasters due to climate change are not included. 

[bf_image id="q7kmuj-5lgwxs-axqngt"]“Climate refugees” have no formal definition and therefore no protection, legal or otherwise. Even though the number of people who fall into this category is rising, they have no recognition under international law. Climate change causes an increase in the frequency of natural disasters as well as degree of destruction. Aside from individual weather events, droughts are becoming more severe and sea levels are continuing to rise. Much of the reason for relocation of these migrants is due to food insecurity, unsafe water and inability for livestock to adapt to these new conditions. 

[bf_image id="q7jvvw-87vlk8-1fevux"]These displaced populations are some of the most vulnerable globally. This is why many human rights organizations discourage the use of “climate refugees” to describe them; legally they have no rights as those with refugee status do. One reason for this is many of these migrants are displaced within their own borders. However, this does not make their situation any easier. Typically, climate migrants flee their rural homes to urban areas, places where their skillset may not be applicable. 

Rising sea levels have been a subject of interest lately for climate scientists. With 40% of the world’s population living within 100 km (or 60 miles) of a coast, even the slightest average increase could be catastrophic. Unlike other types of refugees, going home after being displaced is impossible. Homes and entire villages are wiped away from rising water levels as well as tropical storm increase. On average, 2ºC of warming correlates with 4.5-6 meter increases of sea rise. According to Ben Strauss, CEO and chief scientist of Climate Central, that’s enough to wipe out most cities on coastlines across the globe.

[bf_image id="q5jqhp-8zg16o-8y8b41"] Displacement of people due to climate is expected to double in the next five years– increasing border conflicts and political instability. The Pentagon recognizes climate change as a national security risk, the expanse of which may impact the Department of Defense. This is a global issue which requires international collaboration and a sense of urgency. Intervention by human right organizations is critical for the survival of climate migrants.

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Meet Rachel! She is a senior at UW-Madison majoring in Conservation Biology and Environmental Studies. Her hobbies include watching true crime documentaries, playing soccer, and cooking. The things that make her the happiest are: fresh flowers, bread, and iced coffee.
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