Climate Migrants or Refugees?

After watching the video and reading the article on terminology for class today, I wanted to learn more about how climate refugees are defined. This resource on the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals outlines 10 reasons why they use “climate migrants” over “climate refugee.” However, I find that this reasoning lessens the severity of how we think about climate change and the effects that it has on individuals. Using “migrant” indicates that the individual has agency in leaving but many of the people affected by climate change are forced to leave their homeland and cannot return – especially island nations who are facing extreme weather and rising sea levels. I’m curious what others think about this terminology.

This page also includes other resources on terminology, legal and human rights-based approaches to migration and climate change, which I’ve linked below as well.

Atlas of Environmental Migration

IOM Outlook on Migration, Environment and Climate Change

IOM Training Manual on Migration, Environment and Climate Change


Mia Dunfey

2 Responses to “Climate Migrants or Refugees?

  • keyue Song
    5 months ago

    Thank you Mia or sharing the resource. It seems to me that the article is implicating that environmental problems are not as serious as other crises such as wars, starvation, etc., and that people can survive in a bad environment, though not in a high, or even acceptable quality. It is hard to agree that the term “environmental refugee” may undermine the severity of the term “refugee”, but I do agree that people in different societies and different regions have different standards of considering what is a threat that forces them to move as refugees and what is an “acceptable” living condition. I am also worrying that some people may take advantage of the concept of environmental refugee to seize opportunity from those who are more in need of moving to a new place.

  • Miranda Doremus- Reznor
    5 months ago

    Thank Mia for these resources. I can definitely see your point about the connotation differences between migrant and refugee. In the IOM Outlook, they say that the term migrant can be voluntary or involuntary, but I would say that most of us probably connote the term migrant with volition or choice. However, I do appreciate the dangers of using the term refugee outlined by the UN article. I wonder if “environmental forced migrant” could be a useful term that encompasses some of these issues.

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