Conceptualising policy - do ‘climate refugees’ or ‘environmental migrants’ really exist?

Conceptualising policy - do ‘climate refugees’ or ‘environmental migrants’ really exist?
7 October 2020, 1.30pm - 3.00pm

The International Refugee Law Seminar Series, sponsored by the Refugee Law Initiative at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, provides a public space for discussion, promotion and dissemination of research between academics, practitioners, students and others with an interest in the refugee and forced migration field.

11th RLI Annual Seminar Series 

Academic Year 2020-21 Webinars


How can law and policy engage with the impact of natural hazards on human mobility? 

Environmental processes shape human mobility, including processes of displacement, migration and planned relocation, within countries and even across borders. They can also entrench immobility for specific groups. Natural hazards that shape mobility in such contexts encompass the slow-onset impacts of climate change and environmental degradation, as well as sudden-onset disasters linked to storms, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and even biological hazards like the COVID-19 pandemic. 

This webinar series brings together diverse scholarly and practitioner perspectives on how law and policy can respond to this global challenge. Its six topical sessions will be broadcast live in an interactive format via Zoom technology to enhance participation from across the globe.

The series is convened by the Refugee Law Initiative (RLI) and its Internal Displacement Research Programme, in partnership with the Platform on Disaster Displacement (PDD), a state-led initiative working to improve protection for people displaced in the context of disasters and climate change.

Conceptualising policy - do ‘climate refugees’ or ‘environmental migrants’ really exist?

Moderator: David Cantor, RLI

Critical reflections on how we frame the issue of human mobility in ‘environmental’ contexts – e.g. ‘environmental migrants’, ‘climate refugees’, ‘disaster displaced’ etc. - and the policy implications.

  • Walter Kälin, Platform on Disaster Displacement – introduction to conceptualising displacement in the context of disasters
  • Koko Warner, United Nations Climate Change Secretariat – climate change impact on demographic processes such as mobility
  • Francois Gemenne, Hugo Observatory – the politics of climate refugees
  • Max Martin, University of Sussex – going beyond binaries (e.g. sudden- vs. slow-onset disasters, forced vs. voluntary migration, trapped people vs. those wanting to stay, permanent vs. temporary stay)

This seminar will be held via zoom - access link provided upon sign-up.

Speaker bios:

David James Cantor is Professor of Refugee Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London, UK, where he is also Director of the Refugee Law Initiative and the Internal Displacement Research Programme. He has advised and trained governments from Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Europe and Latin America and co-founded the first ever distance-learning MA in Refugee Protection and Forced Migration Studies, with over 250 students from humanitarian practice all over the world. David has published widely on the legal and practical protection of refugees and internally-displaced persons and carried out extensive fieldwork across Latin America, including in Colombia, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Mexico. He previously practised before the UK courts as a Legal Officer for the Refugee Legal Centre and has been seconded part-time to the UNHCR Americas Bureau as its Principal Advisor. He is Editor-in-Chief of the Refugee Survey Quarterly journal.

Walter Kälin is professor emeritus for international and (Swiss) constitutional law, University of Bern/Switzerland. He is the present envoy of the Chair of the Platform on Disaster Displacement and the former Envoy of the Chairmanship of the Nansen Initiative on disaster-induced cross-border displacement. Previously, he served as Representative of the United Nations (UN) Secretary-General on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons as well as a member of the UN Human Rights Committee.

Dr Koko Warner is a Perry World visiting fellow in the Global Shifts colloquium. As a visiting fellow, her areas of focus include climate change and migration, resilient futures, and climate risks and vulnerabilities. Koko manages the climate impacts and vulnerability subdivision at UNFCCC, where she guides the UN climate secretariat’s adaptation knowledge hub, helping scale up adaptation action, and the Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples Platform. While at UNFCCC, she guided the establishment of the Task Force on Displacement, the Technical Expert Group on Comprehensive Risk Management, the Expert Group on Non-Economic Losses, and (currently) a special issue of COSUST on slow onset climate events as part of the Warsaw Economic Mechanism Executive Committee’s five-year rolling workplan. Warner is an IPCC lead author for the Special Report on Climate Change and Land, and 5th Assessment Report on climate impacts, adaptation and vulnerability. Previously, Koko was founder and Executive Director of the Munich Climate Insurance Initiative and head of research on environmental migration and social resilience at UN University in Bonn. The International Council of Science named Koko one of the top 20 women making waves in the climate change debate.

François Gemenne is a FNRS senior research associate at the University of Liège, where he is the Director of the Hugo Observatory. He also serves as co-director (with Bastien Alex) of the Observatory on Defence and Climate of the French Ministry of Defence. He lectures on environmental and migration policies in various universities, including Sciences Po (Paris and Grenoble) and the Free University of Brussels, where he holds the Bernheim Chair on Peace and Citizenship. His research deals mostly with environmental and migration governance. He has worked in particular with populations displaced by environmental changes, including natural disasters, and the policies of adaptation to climate change. He has conducted field studies in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, Tuvalu, China, Kyrgyzstan, the Maldives, Mauritius and Japan, after the Fukushima disaster. He is a lead author for the IPCC (WG II).

Max Martin, Research Fellow at the School of Global Studies of University of Sussex (UK), is a geographer focusing on extreme 1weather, forecasts and people’s responses.  He is part of a GCRF project titled Forecasting with Fishers in the southwestern coast of India aimed at co-production of weather knowledge for better early warning and safe fishing. His publications include Climate, Environmental Hazards and Migration in Bangladesh (Routledge 2017), and Geography in Britain after World War II – Nature, Climate, and the Etchings of Time (Palgrave 2019).


Refugee Law Initiative
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