The IPCC points out with high confidence that climate and weather extremes are increasingly driving displacement and involuntary migration across regions. But "vulnerability of ecosystems and people to climate change differs substantially among and within regions, driven by patterns of intersecting socio-economic development, unsustainable ocean and land use, inequity, marginalization, historical and ongoing patterns of inequity such as colonialism, and governance."
Some 3.6 billion people already live in contexts highly vulnerable to climate change, according to the IPCC. Likewise, the “World Disasters Report 2020” published by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) says that the impacts of climate change are now seriously undermining the livelihoods of millions around the globe, especially in developing economies. The total number of people identified in the report as directly affected by climate and weather-related disasters during the past decade – 1.9 billion – is both telling and terrifying.
Describing climate change as a risk multiplier, the report rightly points out that those dislocated and displaced due to environmental degradation and/or natural disasters are far more vulnerable due to existing threats. These include loss of habitat, depleted social capital, eroded socio-economic resilience and already precarious life in crowded camps, especially for women, children and elderly people. And yet migrants, especially those of the irregular anonymous kind, are conspicuously and largely absent in various disaster plans and policy action responses.
Regional instruments such as the 1969 Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention and the 1984 Cartagena Declaration, besides incorporating region-specific attributes into their expanded definitions, have emphasized that the categorical understanding of a refugee should move away from a geopolitically dictated principle of “well-founded fear” of “persecution” to address the plight of those fleeing civil unrest, war and violence, and climate-induced or -multiplied disasters, irrespective of whether they can prove a well-founded fear of persecution.