The warming of the climate is beginning to reveal increasing human insecurities in high-risk areas. New levels of ecological threats, food and water scarcity, and natural disasters are sparking concerns that many may be forced to migrate or seek refuge abroad. The 2020 Ecological Threat Register suggests that as many as 1.2 billion people are at risk of displacement by 2050 as a result of climate change. These climate-induced migrants fall outside of the legal definition of the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees. This has serious implications for a rights-based approach to tackling the looming challenge. While state actors have moved slowly to offer any remedy to this issue, the international agenda is reluctantly beginning to turn to the question of climate migration.
This paper will investigate the existing legal human rights understanding of migration in relation to climate change, providing insight from the case of the Republic of Kiribati before establishing some pathways for a rights-based approach to a protection regime for climate migrants and refugees. First, the existing international refugee legal framework will be analyzed in light of climate-induced migration. Second, the case of Kiribati will be brought forward as one of the states most susceptible to have climate change play a push factor for mass emigration. Finally, we will provide future outlooks on the inclusion of climate refugees in international law.