Dana Zartner Falstrom
Displaced individuals, environmental reasons, environmental refugees, root causes, affirmative State obligations, protection
While the number of people who have been displaced for environmental reasons is on the rise, it is a mistake to believe that the existing refugee structure and current refugee norms are adequate to protect these individuals. In this paper, I address the root causes of environmental degradation and catastrophe that are causing this increased migration of environmentally displaced persons. I also provide justification for my position that a new convention should be drafted providing protections for environmentally displaced persons and creating affirmative obligations for states to work toward preventing environmental displacement in the future.
Part II defines “ environmental refugees ” and describes how they have come to exist and where they come from. Several examples from recent years illustrate that environmental factors are often only one piece of a more complex puzzle. In Part III , I consider a representative commentator who argues that environmental refugees can be amply protected under existing refugee mechanisms—a position which fails to consider the definition of “ refugee ” in the international context. Even if these refugees could meet the academic criteria laid out in the definition of the Refugee Convention of 1951, individual states have implemented the provisions of the Convention in different ways—often, as in the case of the United States, in such a way that would make it practically impossible for an environmentally displaced person to be admitted to the state as a refugee . Accordingly, we must create a new mechanism for protecting environmentally displaced persons, addressing both the displacement and the environmental factors precipitating the displacement. Merely allowing environmentally displaced individuals to move does not solve the problem. Not only is their homeland continually decimated, but also the massive influx of environmental refugees to other areas creates a vicious cycle of environmental problems in these new areas.
Part IV outlines my suggested alternative to the proposal that environmentally displaced persons should be considered under the existing refugee structure. The solution for this problem must address not only the root of the problem ( environmental issues), but also the results ( environmental refugees ). Utilization of the Refugee Convention, while addressing the results, does not touch the root of the problem. I, therefore, propose that the international community address the problem of environmentally displaced persons in a manner similar to that of victims of torture. As with the Convention Against Torture, I suggest that states offer temporary protection to those fleeing from environmental problems, and also assume obligations and duties in order to solve these problems within their own jurisdictions, thus preventing the creation of environmental refugees from the start. Sufficient evidence of support for a new convention governing environmentally displaced persons already exists in international treaty law and customary international law, and can provide the necessary sense of state obligation for a new treaty to succeed.
(2001) Colorado Journal of International Environmental Law and Policy 2
Stemming the Flow of Environmental Displacement: Creating a Convention to Protect Persons and Preserve the Environment