Climate Change is Humanized – Zaida Chango

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has had a short but evolutionary history since its conception 60 years ago. Its original mission to offer legal advice to a post World War II Europe expanded enormously. According to Alexander Betts the UNHCR was able to expand its mission through its own prerogative. Betts acknowledges that realists are correct in their assertion that states have influence in how international organizations evolve, but he makes it clear that the UNHCR was able to expand its influence by going against the dominant states’ will. For instance, when the invasion of Hungry by the Soviet Union resulted in numerous refugees in Yugoslavia and Austria, the UNHCR teamed up with NGOs to deal with the situation. In other words, the UNHCR is clearly an organization that has enough leadership capability to remain an important actor in the international system.

As a result, it is a natural progression for the UNHCR to become involved in the effects of climate change on the global population. In its assessment of climate change, the UNHCR makes it clear that there is still a need for empirical evidence on the effects of climate change on the populations of different areas. This admission on the part of the UNHCR is a testament to its enduring trajectory. This is because; it admits that there is a lack of information but calls for other international organizations and states to look into this area of climate change. In other words, the UNHCR is giving climate change a new face by attaching it to humanity and how severe of an effect it could have on millions of people. The UNHCR is engaging the common thread of humanity to instigate change. This is a perfect example of the UNHCR using its moral authority. Betts explained that, early in its history, in order to remain relevant, the UNHCR used “…its moral authority to justify expansion until it was eventually endorsed by the UN General Assembly” which is what is happening now with climate change. The UNHCR has moral authority because its main mission is to protect refugees and by linking climate change to defenseless populations it is bound to convince states and non-state actors alike to act.

The UNHCR is correct in considering victims of climate change to be refugees because these are only extensions of victims of natural disasters. The reality is that climate change was caused by humanity and it is up to the international organizations created by humanity to help those affected. The UNHCR has demonstrated strong leadership qualities in its 60 years of life and it is well equipped to lead the effort of bringing aid to victims of natural disasters caused by climate change in the future.


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