Climate Justice and Migrant Rights


NNIRR members marched with allies and partners in during the People's Climate March that took place on Sept. 21, 2014 in New York, at the time of the UN General Assembly's 69th session. Click here to view Facebook photos from Migrants Rights International from the Sept. 21 climate action march in New York and from the Sept. 22-23 Peoples' Climate Justice Summit.

We joined a delegation of the Global Coalition on Migration and the broader Climate Justice Alliance, as members of Grassroots Global Justice Alliance (GGJ).

As you know, NNIRR has been striving to make the connections between climate change, migration and human rights. It is an intersection that is finally beginning to emerge in more popular discussions in the broad climate change movement, although understandings are still uneven and often uninformed. There is even an important question of "definition", as we note in NNIRR's fact sheet on climate justice:: 

There is a growing, unresolved debate on defining "climate migrant" or "climate/environmental refugee":

  • Some argue that there is a need to define a new class of climate refugees who have been forcibly displaced by the effects of climate change and that they be given special protections and status (such as refugee status under the Refugee Convention) and even redress for this injustice.
  • Others suggest that defining a special class of climate refugees would create a hierarchy of immigrants, and would split and differentiate climate refugees from economic refugees, who are all affected by the same global economic and political system.

The issue has been emerging for a number of years on the international level, and has become part of the global program of advocacy work that NNIRR and partners are involved in under the broad umbrella of "migrants in crisis." The arena raises familiar concerns: on the one hand, how to address immediate and emergent issues, including displacement of large populations, which need humanitarian responses, while understanding and addressing the underlying causes and contributing factors and addressing longterm consequences. It is an increasingly important issue, and we have a lot of work to do!

The Sunday march was very big, and encompassed a broad spectrum of participants, with a focus on "climate action"; of course, this is also what the UN said was its theme! Our allies in the Climate Justice Alliance (CJA) have focused on a more critical, justice and equity-based analysis and approach, which you would certainly recognize as being in line with the intersectional framing from NNIRR. Here's what Cindy Wiesner, GGJ coordinator and an organizer for CJA, has said:

"Climate Justice Alliance members and our international allies are marching and demanding world leaders take action to move money to a Just Transition that can create millions of meaningful jobs that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and put our communities back to work building the resilient infrastructure that addresses both the climate and economic crisis – from clean community power, zero waste, and local food systems, to public transit and housing families."

In addition to the march on Sunday, there were numerous other activities planned during the week, in particular a two-day People's Climate Justice Summit, that included a great line-up of plenaries and a tribunal, taking place in two sites in New York.

Check out these documents for your orientation. A brief "fact sheet" from NNIRR on Climate Justice and Migration, and the second, a more in-depth briefing paper, Environmental Degradation, Climate Change, Migration & Development, drafted by Stephen Castles and Colin Rajah.