Global Responses to Eco-Migration and Environmental Disasters
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February 23, 2009


Global Responses to Eco-Migration and Environmental Disasters:

The Role of U.S. and International Law and Policy

Symposium Content


Environmental migration is a reality that can no longer be overlooked. Research shows more persons are now displaced by environmental causes than by war and political persecution combined. Projections suggest that up to 200 million persons will be displaced by the effects of climate change by 2050. Environmentally induced migration is likely to cause unprecedented problems for development by increasing pressure on urban infrastructure, exacerbating conflict over scarce resources, and undermining economic growth. Recent environmental disasters such as Hurricane Katrina and Cyclone Nargis (in Myanmar) vividly support scholars' predictions that millions of people worldwide will be displaced by rising sea levels,desertification, drying aquifers, weather-induced flooding and other serious environmental changes.

Notwithstanding the significant impact such migration will have on both domestic and international policy and law in the coming years, there has been a notable lack of consensus as to how "eco-migration" should be addressed and a wide debate on how to classify environmental migrants or refugees. Since environmental causes of migration are so varied it is difficult to craft a consistent legal definition of what constitutes an environmental migrant or refugee under international law. Furthermore, many persons displaced by environmental disasters do not cross international borders, which place them under the auspices of domestic rather than international law. Therefore, there is a push for states to adopt national policies and immigration laws that would protect environmental migrants who remain within their home country.

This interdisciplinary conference will bring such issues to the forefront of discussion and debate in an attempt to spur further research into the role that international and domestic law can play in addressing this growing concern. Through the engagement of a diverse group of lawyers, policy makers and scholars we aim to provide insight into the causes of environmental migration; the ways in which existing international and domestic laws and policies address or fail to address the needs of environmental refugees and migrants; and the possibilities of developing both a national and international legal framework for the future.