Climate refugees account for more than a half of all migrants but enjoy little protection

Up to three times as many people are being displaced annually due to natural disasters as due to armed conflicts or other forms of violence, and much of what is now international migration started out as weather-related internal displacement.

Despite this, the legal protection of people driven out of their homes and countries due to environment-related causes is still flawed, with no legal definition describing their status and no specific international body monitoring the protection of their rights. These concerns were raised at a March hearing at the European Economic and Social Committee, held online due to coronavirus (COVID-19) measures.

Speakers at the hearing said that environmental displacement has to be seen as a human rights issue and that there should be a rights-based approach, which requires a comprehensive legal framework. There are currently only a handful of unconnected legal mechanisms that can be used for this purpose.

The current political discourse on migration often uses migrants and refugees as "props to warn of the danger of climate change", which results in xenophobic arguments implying that, unless you reduce your CO2 emissions, you will end up with millions of migrants and refugees knocking on your door.

Another problem is that states only act when disaster strikes and make no attempt to prevent displacement where possible.

Most importantly, however, it is essential to mitigate climate change, first of all by limiting warming to 1.5°C, which is crucial, but also by significantly reducing CO2 emissions. Failure to do this will inevitably result not only in more migration, but also in the rise of the "forced immobility" phenomenon – the desperate plight of those too poor to evacuate. (ll)