Climate Change and Displacement: Addressing Protection Gaps

Release Date: 
Thursday, January 29, 2015
Children walk through a sandstorm in Tillaberi region, Niger (Feb 2012)  © Jaspreet Kindra/IRIN

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Climate change and environmental degradation are increasingly becoming a humanitarian issue. Variability in climate, as well as in increased frequency and intensity of extreme weather events, is disrupting livelihoods, driving displacement, and contributing to conflicts over increasingly limited natural resources. While climate change is impacting lives on a global scale, the populations most likely to be affected – those already vulnerable to natural and man-made disasters – are also the least able to cope, particularly due to poverty, state fragility, geographic vulnerability, resource insecurity, low resiliency or legacies of past conflict and migration.

The consequences of climate change for humanitarian action are already being seen in many regions: from the Sahel, where droughts in Mali threaten food security and exacerbate conflict and instability, to Pakistan, where devastating floods affected nearly one third of a country, including many people already displaced by armed violence. In short, where natural disasters fuel conflict and instability, the likelihood of future humanitarian crises is increasing. For humanitarian organizations, this will likely mean not only a strain on resources, but also the need for more adaptability, longer-term presence, and closer coordination with development of disaster-risk reduction (DRR) agencies in complex humanitarian emergencies.

Through conversations with experts and practitioners, this podcast will explore legal and operational gaps in protection resulting from climate change and displacement. Expert panelists will discuss how agencies are adapting to these protection gaps, and what connections and opportunities exist when working through local agencies. Additionally, the podcast will address how to adapt existing legal frameworks to better protect environmentally displaced persons. 

Key questions for discussion:

  • What legal and operational gaps exist in the humanitarian protection of persons displaced by climate change and environmental factors?
  • How do we determine whether such displacement is voluntary or forced, temporary or permanent, and which legal frameworks apply? How do individual protection needs differ between internal and cross-border displacement?
  • How can humanitarian organizations adapt to the challenges pose by climate change in order to more effectively fill these protection gaps?

Expert Commentators:

  • Walter Kälin, Envoy of the Chairmanship, The Nansen Initiative
  • Vincent MartinHead of FAO Subregional Hub for Resilience, Emergency and Rehabilitation in West Africa/Sahel (REOWA) & FAO Representative in Senegal, FAO
  • José Riera, Special Adviser to the Director, Division of International Protection, UNHCR
  • Roger Zetter, Professor Emeritus in Refugee Studies, University of Oxford


  • UN OCHA (United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) (2014). 2014–2016 Strategic Response Plan, Sahel Region, January 2014, Prepared by the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) on behalf of Humanitarian Partners in the Sahel.
  • UNHCR (UN High Commissioner for Refugees), Protecting People Crossing Borders in the Context of Climate Change Normative Gaps and Possible Approaches, February 2012.
  • Roger Zetter (2011),Protecting environmentally displaced people: Developing the capacity of legal and normative frameworks, February 2011.
  • ICRC (2010). “Humanitarian debate: Law, policy, action. Environment.” International Review of the Red Cross (Vol. 92, no. 879, September 2010).
  • Marion Couldrey and Maurice Herson (eds), (2008), “Climate change and displacement,” Forced Migration Review, 31.

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