CCJHR-ISS21 seminar on climate migration

The CCJHR and the Institute for Social Science in the 21st Century (ISS21) Migration Cluster jointly hosted an inter-disciplinary seminar on climate migration on Thursday 2nd March 2017 in the School of Law, UCC.

Few people challenge the strong scientific evidence that anthropogenic climate change is a reality, and is negatively impacting many parts of the world. Indeed, one of the most oft-quoted consequences of global climate change is the possibility of large-scale human migration in response to rising sea levels, increased desertification, and intensification of natural disasters such as hurricanes and flooding.

Therefore, this seminar considered the human, social and legal implications of climate migration from an inter-disciplinary perspective, bringing together researchers from the fields of geography, philosophy and the law. Professor Robert McLeman from Wilfrid Laurier University Ontario and Trinity College Dublin, commenced by examining why people migrate and the different categories of climate-relating migration. Professor McLeman set out a variety of scenarios, including amenity migration (for example people in China migrating away from urban areas to avoid extensive smog and pollution), seasonal migration arising from seasonal floods in Bangladesh or dry season migration in India and central Asia, and climate extremes such as Hurricane Mitch which prompted a pulse of short-term evacuations and distress migration. Professor McLeman concluded by stressing that we should not fear floods of climate refugees but focus on addressing root causes, building adaptive capacity and creating basic legal protections and rights.

Next, Dr Cara Nine from the Department of Philosophy, UCC presented on her research into two key aspects of climate migration. First, Dr Nine examined the issues of territory and sovereignty in the context of disappearing states such as the small Pacific Islands that comprise Kiribati and Tuvalu. Applying John Locke’s proviso mechanism to territorial rights, Dr Nine queried when a state or people might become a candidate to gain sovereignty over new territory due to the disappearance of their original state. Dr Nine then examined the concept of place attachment, defined as the positively experienced bonds between persons and their environment, and identified specific interests including autonomy, self-esteem and personal identity that affect an individual’s personal interests.

Dr Dug Cubie from the School of Law, UCC addressed the legal categorisation of “climate refugees” and identified the lack of an accepted legal definition. In particular, Dr Cubie noted the multi-causal nature of migratory decisions and that, except in cases of catastrophic environmental degradation, attributing causation to climate change was challenging. Dr Cubie also highlighted the importance of considering potentially vulnerable people who remain in their homes due to ill-health, age or other reasons. The right to remain requires the application of human rights principles such as participation, empowerment and accountability to ensure adaptation with dignity. In particular, Dr Cubie noted the rights of access to information, participation in decision-making and effective access to justice arising from Principle 10 of the 1992 Rio Declaration on Environment and Development.

The seminar concluded with an open discussion with those in attendance on a variety of aspects, and the benefits of such inter-disciplinary events to share knowledge and experience across the university. For more information, see: