Yun Simpson- Climate Refuges

I believe it would be a good idea for the UNHCR to change its mandate to include climate refugees. Looking at institutions from a constructivist standpoint, situations and norms are always changing. Although climate refugees were not talked about during the time the mandate was made, it does not mean that it is not a relevant issue today. We must respect that environmental issues are a real problem that is sometimes unavoidable. For problems such as drought, natural disaster (slow or sudden), etc…, there is nothing that can be done.

While those conditions might become “acceptable” for reason to take refuge, one might consider environmental issues that are avoidable. In these situations, states and institutions must work together to try to solve these issues. But if a state cannot or will not change anything to become more environmentally friendly, then citizens still must take refuge somewhere if the land is no longer suitable to live in. It is not the fault of the citizens if states or institutions so not take steps to help the environment. It is the duty of the UNHCR to help the citizens who are displaced.

In terms of specific definitions, I do not see why climate refuges cannot be someone that is considered a refugee. The UN Refugee Agency states that “economic refugee” is not a recognized term in international law, but it is understood that people are sometimes refuges for economic reasons. It became a norm. Therefore, looking at this through a constructivist viewpoint, environmental refugee can become a norm but does not need to have a legal definition.

As the global community continues to gain knowledge concerning the environment, we cannot deny that our earth is changing, and it is affecting how (and where) we live. Knowing that the global community must use that knowledge to move forward in how to deal with these issues. If it means that citizens are displaced, I believe that countries that pride themselves in being involved in the global community should take on these issues head on. If this means taking refuges due to environmental issues, then we must recognize them as “environmental refuges” or just “refuges”. This also means that the global community must be conscious of how we are treating the environment. In either situation, I do not this it is appropriate to ignore the issue that people are being displaced because of environmental issues.

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