9:00 am EDT - 11:00 am EDT

Past Event

Climate Change and Displacement

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

9:00 am - 11:00 am EDT

The Brookings Institution
Kresge Room

1775 Massachusetts Ave., NW
Washington, DC

Researchers, government agencies and organizations are increasingly looking at the relationship between climate change and displacement. With this in mind, Elizabeth Ferris, senior fellow and co-director of the project, welcomed researchers and policymakers from different disciplines to this informal roundtable discussion to learn what people are doing and share information on current and planned research.

The discussion was broad and gave participants the opportunity to discuss common themes and report on current research initiatives. Two key participants were Lindsay Lowell, director of Policy Studies at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University, and Greg Wannier, deputy director and fellow of the Center for Climate Change Law, Columbia Law School. Their contributions are summarized below.

Lindsay Lowell reported on the work of a project based at Georgetown University under Susan Martin’s direction which had been funded by the German Marshall Fund. This project looked at climate change and displacement from three perspectives: migration, humanitarian response and the environment, and included of a series of meetings, short site visits (Senegal, Bangladesh and Mexico) and a series of reports.

The project found that climate change-induced migration is likely to be internal rather than cross-border and that there are gaps in legal frameworks to respond to such migration.  While this project with the German Marshall Fund has been completed, there may be a future project with the MacArthur Foundation that would address migration stemming from broad environmental changes and natural disasters with the aim of moving toward a) developing guiding principles for those displaced by climate change which affirm the rights of migrants; b) examining existing practice, and 3) testing out the ideas through a process of regional consultations.

Greg Wannier reported on initiatives being undertaken at the Columbia School of Law on legal issues arising from climate change-induced displacement. In particular, a conference entitled “Threatened Island Nations: Legal Implications of a Changing Climate” will be  held from 23-25 May in New York and will focus on some of the legal issues arising from the Pacific islands, including continuing statehood and maintenance of maritime zones for states facing inundation from sea level rise; resettlement rights and practicalities of population displacement; liability for climatic harm in judicial forums; the utility of responsibility regimes under current law; and the role for a new convention on climate displacement. The initiative for this conference comes from the Marshall Islands. (For more information or to participate in the conference, contact Greg via email.) The Law School also has an interdisciplinary team working on adaptation in the islands, including issues such as housing and infrastructure.