“The Place Where I Live Is Where I Belong”: Human Rights and the Question of Climate-Induced Migration

AbstractIn the past decades, narratives of the “climate change refugee” have arisen within the larger conversation of climate change. This paper asks what role a human rights framework can have in grappling with the emergent and complicated question of climate-induced displacement—in a way that is more nuanced than most media coverage or policy analyses. Based on fieldwork in Port Vila, Vanuatu, I argue that while human rights law seems ill-equipped to serve as a stand-alone solution to climate change-induced migration, a human rights framework does offer the possibility of innovative approaches to the complexities of climate-induced displacement that are ignored by the dominant “climate refugee” narrative. Specifically, a human rights framework offers the potential for a rights-based approach to climate-induced migration—which should both prioritize the procedural rights of affected communities and center groups protected by human rights standards. A rights framework also contributes the human rights principles that underpin climate justice advocacy (both through agenda-setting and bottom-up grassroots movements) in a way that responsibly addresses the expectations and concerns of climate vulnerable communities.

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