CIDCE at COP24 on Climate Change: “Environmental Migration: Ghost Migration”

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Environmental Migration: the Ghost Migration 

(By Sherazade Zaiter, international business lawyer, PhD student at CRIDEAU (Center for Interdisciplinary Research in Environmental and Urban Law), member of CIDCE; the GNHRE; AMFORHT and lecturer at the law school of Limoges.)

  1. Facts: from Paris to Katowice

The ecological disaster has begun. This was the alarm call thrown into the fray at the conference on “Environmental Migration” organised by the International Center for Comparative Environmental Law  (CIDCE) on December 8, 2018, in Katowice.   It was part of the 24th session of the Conference of the Parties (COP24) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC ).

1.1.  Pious Wishes

Three years after the Paris agreement, COP24 was expected to deliver upon three directives:

– adopt the rules for the implementation of the Paris Agreement,

– reassure the mobilization of financing climate change action,

– send a signal to increase collaboration and align ambitions that will accelerate action on climate change

Organizations like the CIDCE has become spokespersons for the climate to highlight the human disaster that is appearing before our eyes and destroying the edifice of human civilization, but the reality is bitter once again — this major global climate summit is coming to an end in a bed of resentment and disappointment.

Increasing hurricanes, forest fires, droughts, glacier destruction, rising sea levels, and atmospheric pollution have all continued to increase. Other tragedies, resulting from the climate and environmental crisis, are ongoing.

1.2. The Migration Tragedy

“I see that we are but phantoms, all we who live, or fleeting shadows,” Ajax said in Sophocles’ tragedy. A ghost is an illusion of the mind, something indistinct, inconsistent, or non-existent. The ghost also frightens, disrupts, and haunts minds. These ghosts, like the environmentally displaced, are conveniently ignored together with those who hunt and prey upon them because they have no legal existence. Yet the political and ecological crisis is very real.

Millions of people, 26 million today and 250 million forecast tomorrow, travelling thousands of kilometers to escape the impact of climate change, remain invisible to the international community.  There are now three times more climate than political refugees. This means one person per second is forced to run away from their native territory simply to continue to seek out an existence for their families.

The environmental migration crisis is happening here and now — not in the future. It’s not a statistic, even if the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees predicts 250 million displacements in 2050 for reasons related to environmental degradation, the climate crisis, or natural disasters.

Faced with these large-scale migratory movements, panic is spreading over the planet. Justified on the fear generated by these tides of humans, populist dictatorships are brought to power. Barbed wire and walls are erected at borders, e.g. The National ego. These that have been proven to be so damaging in our recent past are reappearing. Multilateral budgets are shrinking. Liberal movements are silent. The disease is worsening rapidly.

  1. Handling: Power and Gift

“Each human being has been granted two qualities: power and gift. Power drives a person to meet his/her destiny, their gift obliges that person to share with others which is good in them. A human being must know when to use power, and when to use compassion,” wrote Paulo Coelho in “The Warrior of the Light.”

The concept of a refugee is legally established at the international level through the 1951 Refugee Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. The core principle is non-refoulement. A refugee is defined in article 1 as “any person who: (…) has a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

Unfortunately, this definition does not apply to climate refugees who are largely omitted from climate summits and international law. A ravaged, desolate, and dysfunctional environment is not yet considered a legitimate reason to leave a territory and still does not justify legal protection measures.

CIDCE has pleaded this fundamental issue of the migration crisis linked to environmental degradation and the lack of international legal protection for environmental migrants at COP24. The conference was held under the theme “Implementation of Article 8 of the Paris Agreement and Decision 49/CP21” with the following speakers.

Ibrahim Mbamoko, Agro Socio-Economist Engineer, Executive Secretary of the NGO CARRE GEO & ENVIRONNEMENT, introduced the international political and media context on migration. In particular, he pointed out that several countries are adopting hostile text to immigration at the national level that is totally inconsistent with their declarations at the international level. Thus, the Lake Chad region, marked by the drying up of its lake, already has a high rate of internal and external displacement.

Bordered by Chad, Niger, Nigeria, and Cameroon, Lake Chad, Africa’s fourth largest freshwater reserve, has lost 90 percent of its surface area in 40 years. Sometimes the monsoon weakens to such an extent that the lake does not cross borders, depriving some states of their access to water. Many Sahelian residents have left the region due to rising temperatures, which make life on the ground almost impossible.

Ibrahim Mbamoko illustrated his comments with a video showing the reality of people displaced by climate change in the far north of Cameroon.

Atle Solberg, member of the Task Force on Displacement responsible for drafting recommendations for integrated approaches to prevent, reduce, and respond to population movements explained the adverse effects of climate change. The head of the coordination unit of the Platform on Disaster Relocation, responsible for monitoring the Nansen initiative presented the recommendations of the task force submitted to the Executive Committee of the Warsaw International Mechanism on losses and damages.  The recommendations were included in the COP24 decision and invite Parties, bodies under the Convention and the Paris Agreement, United Nations agencies, and relevant stakeholders to have an integrated approach to prevent, minimize, and address travel related to the adverse effects of climate change.

Ana Paula Chagas, Senior Lecturer in Environmental Law at the University of Paris 1 – Panthéon-Sorbonne, co-founder of the Brazilian Association of Environmental Lawyers and member of Responding To Climate Change, explained the challenges of international law in terms of environmental refugee rights in the face of state sovereignty. She referred to the case of Brazil following the Haitian immigration after the earthquake in 2010. She said Brazil’s position is that environmental refugees must be treated in a Humanitarian Law point of view. Brazil has not closed its borders to Haitians; in the absence of climate refugee status, it has granted them a humanitarian visa pursuant to article 225 of the Brazilian Federal Constitution, which states that «All persons are entitled to an ecologically balanced environment, which is an asset for the people’s common use and is essential to healthy life, it being the duty of the Government and of the community to defend and preserve it for present and future generations.»

Shérazade Zaiter, a PhD candidate at the CRIDEAU (Centre de Recherche Interdisciplinaire en Droit de l’Environnement et de l’Aménagement Urbain) at the Faculty of Law in Limoges and a member of the International Centre for Comparative Environmental Law (CIDCE), presented the fourth version of the  Convention on the International Status of Environmental Displaced Persons drafted by the CIDCE with the CRIDEAU and her concept of green citizenship.

The latest version of the draft convention proposes a protective legal framework and a defined status that goes beyond the category of environmental displaced persons. Article 2 defines “environmental displaced persons” as ” individuals, families, groups, and populations facing a sudden or insidious upheaval in their environment that inevitably endangers their living conditions, forcing them to leave, urgently or for the long term, their usual places of life ». Article 3 applies the Convention “to  interstate and intrastate environmental displacements (…) equally to environmental displacements caused by armed conflict or acts of terrorism.”

It is an absolute necessity to create a new international legal instrument for climate refugees. Green citizenship is a universal citizenship that links human beings and nature. It is based on the protection and respect of the environment, the mobility of human rights and the fundamental right to nationality, democracy and sustainable development. It is cross-border and transgenerational. The issue of environmental displacement is also linked to the freedom of the movement of citizens. Citizenship is a status in society. It generally describes a person with legal rights within a given political order. It almost always has an element of exclusion, meaning that some people are not citizens, and this distinction can sometimes be very important, or not important, depending on a particular society. Green citizenship makes it possible to remove the material and legal constraints of migration, and it is also a tool to implement the human right to the environment.

Lee Kwang-Youn, Professor of Law at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul. Adviser to the Minister of the Environment and Member of the International Centre for Comparative Environmental Law (CIDCE), Lee Kwang-Youn critically analyzed the notion of common but differentiated responsibility from the polluter pays principle in the context of environmental migration. He proposed that the polluter-pays principle should apply to the financing of the Environmental Displacement Fund, but that this principle should not be limited only to States but also to private companies. It is necessary for all countries to adopt a system of “taxes” for polluters, because the reception of people displaced for environmental reasons depends on the principles of solidarity and humanity.

Dr. Young Ku, Professor at the National Taïwan Science and Technology University and Vice President of the Taïwan Research Institute presented strategies to promote the financing of the adaptation and relocation of the populations in the context of disaster.

Some contacts are not made by chance. I took a plane full of COP24 participants from Warsaw to Katowice. Everyone spoke easily to each other. My flight neighbor was a French military man travelling with his delegation to a conference about the consequences of climate change on armed conflict. When the environment no longer provides food, it is essential to move to cultivable and clean water sources. These vital displacements often trigger armed conflicts, as was the case with Darfur and Syria.  This crucial subject is also omitted on international climate negotiations.

On December 10, 2018, in Oslo, Norway, Dr. Denis Mukwege, a Congolese obstetrician-gynecologist, and Nadia Murad, an Iraqi human rights activist, were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to end the use of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Nadia Murad is one of the 3,000 Yezidi women who have been victims of rape and other abuses by Daech’s army. In his poignant speech, Dr. Mukwege describes the atrocities endured by these victims, and more than four million people were displaced within the Democratic Republic of Congo and six million are dead.

On that same day in Marrakesh, Morocco, the Global Compact for Safe, Orderly, and Regular Migration was adopted at the Conference on International Migration. Professor Michel Prieur, President of CIDCE, present in Marrakesh, pointed out that it is an additional disappointment for the legal recognition of environmental displaced persons. Although para 15-f emphasizes that “By implementing the Global Compact, we ensure effective respect for and protection and fulfilment of the human rights of all migrants, regardless of their migration status, across all stages of the migration cycle, this is not legally binding because the Marrakesh Pact is not an international treaty that is binding on States.

We live in an interdependent world. The link between climate change, the movement of people, and armed conflict no longer needs to be demonstrated. Consequences are not only environmental but, above all, they are human. It is time for those who have the power and duty to protect human rights to put in place the legal instruments that guarantee the right to live in a healthy environment before the inevitable conflict and repercussions of the failure to do so reach you and your family.

Sherazade Zaiter (


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