Climate & Environment

    Climate Change

Post-Doctoral Fellowships


Migration and Human Rights in the Wake of Climate Change

The agreement signed in Paris by 195 countries at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference is without precedent. For one thing, Dr. Cosmin Corendea says, it contains the strongest human rights language of any international environmental treaty yet. The legal scholar has long worked to raise awareness of the connection between climate change and human rights. After an extreme climate event, like a major flood, the first thing to occur is a violation of someone’s basic rights, he says, like the right to clean water, education, work or housing. Soon thereafter, the people affected must make a decision: adapt or migrate? In his research, Dr. Corendea explores this relationship between environmental triggers, human rights violations, and migration decisions, in order to develop legal approaches where the focus is on the vulnerable people affected by climate change.
Already, the percentage of climate victims choosing to migrate has risen to over 30% and the number is expected to increase, bringing both benefits and risks for the countries involved. A legal framework is needed to manage those risks and Dr. Corendea is investigating how international law could address both human rights and help the most at-risk to respond to climate threats. Specifically, his study will focus on the Pacific Islands, in particular Fiji and Vanuatu, two of the countries affected by climate change in the region. Considered to be “a way of life”, migration in the Pacific has its own particularities in relation to law, in general, and does not benefit from any domestic or regional policies to regulate the process. People move frequently among the islands in search of new opportunities, but studies show that there is no data collected for countries to better understand people’s needs. Dr. Corendea’s work could lead to policy recommendations in this regard, also taking into consideration the impacts of both international and traditional law in the Pacific.

Many of the provisions of the Pacific customary law are maintained orally and, without written forms, are left open to interpretation by different local actors. “Some Pacific Islands do have their legal norms spoken (customary law) and writing it down could go against their culture. For people outside the Pacific, in particular lawyers, this could sound strange, but for them it is a traditional way of understanding and applying law, which we need to respect.” This is one reason why the bottom-up approach is recommended over imposing policies at the institutional level, and Dr. Corendea will apply this method for obtaining transparent and rights-based results when researching the Pacific law. To start addressing human mobility from the legal perspective, he will be conducting field research in Fiji and Vanuatu. Different methodology tools, such as interviews, focus groups and questionnaires will allow him to elicit recommendations from within the society. His results could establish the Pacific people’s need for their interpretation of the law around migration and reveal ways to integrate it into regional or national policies.

“In order to make these solutions and approaches sustainable, they must be supported by a legal framework,” Dr. Corendea explains. “This is 2016 and the law is a living organism that needs its progressive interpretation, so that it can grow with the people’s needs and adapt to today’s mobility patterns.” His legal approach is human-centered, placing individuals and their basic rights at the center of climate change response. “The ultimate goal is to create regional migration policies, with respect to the Pacific’s human rights and where migration is a positive process.” Dr. Corendea believes that law in general, has the power to address diverse risks of climate change and the recent Paris Agreement is a good start in this regard.

Scientific title: Hybrid Legal Approaches in Climate Change Scenarios

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