Climate migration: the emerging need for a human-centred approach

Sennan Mattar, Enyinnaya Udy Mbakwem

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)


Forced migration is a phenomenon expected to be exacerbated by climate change as more frequent climate-related natural disasters result in the increase of human displacement. These displaced persons are popularly referred to as “environmental/climate refugees,” but their classification is a contentious topic. The 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees limits the use of the term refugee to those with “well-founded fears” of political persecution resulting in “trans-boundary flight.” Extreme weather events cannot be argued as a persecutor under the current international legal regime. The lack of an appropriate definition means there is no recognition of, or assistance given to, those who are forced to (a) internally migrate, (b) leave their homes due to economic and social persecution and (c) flee climate-related natural disasters. This creates an atmosphere where the violation of the rights of these vulnerable migrants is possible, thus, the need to address the human dimension of climate change.

The concept of climate justice encapsulates the violations of human rights by climate change. The case of subsistence farmers in sub-Saharan Africa exemplifies the vulnerability of climate-induced migrants and the violation of human rights. The majority of farmers in Niger rely on rain-fed agriculture, but the increasing frequency of drought and shrinking of Lake Chad due to climatic change damages livelihoods. Many farmers adapt by migrating temporarily or permanently to augment income from working in other rural areas or cities. This type of migration potentially violates the right of the rural farmer to development and secure livelihood, but also increases their vulnerability to inhumane living conditions, exploitation and margination. Climate justice can be used to determine whether situations faced by individuals or groups of migrants involved in types of migration can be considered a “climate injustice”. This chapter will provide a theoretical overview of the relationship between climate change and migration, while analysing the human rights issues associated with climate-induced migration in rural Nigeria and urban Zambia.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationRoutledge Handbook of Climate Justice
EditorsTahseen Jafry
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)9781315537689
ISBN (Print)9781138689350
Publication statusPublished - 20 Nov 2018

Publication series

NameRoutledge International Handbooks


  • climate migration
  • climate change
  • climate justice
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
  • coastal areas
  • informal settlements


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