People displaced by climate change don’t have refugee status — should they? Displaced hosts Grant Gordon and Ravi Gurumurthy from the International Rescue Committee sat down with Kaldor Centre Director Jane McAdam to discuss that question, with thought-provoking results.

It’s a vital concern. In 2017, disasters accounted for 61 percent of internal displacement, while conflict accounted for 39 percent. Climate change threatens to increase global displacement levels, already the highest on record. While projections vary widely, the World Bank predicts that more than 140 million people could be internally displaced by the effects of climate change by 2050.

“Often people think about climate change-related displacement as something we need to maybe be thinking about at some point in the future, whereas we need to be addressing it now—to be thinking about it, understanding it, and putting in place sensible policies so that we can avert some displacement where possible but also manage it where it does occur,” McAdam says.

A human-rights-based approach is what’s needed, says McAdam. Rather than creating a new treaty, of changing the Refugee Convention to encompass the impacts of climate change, we should look at using existing legal frameworks to protect those forced from their homes by disasters. Negotiating a new international agreement would present a number of conceptual and practical difficulties, not least the challenge of generating the political will necessary to implement and enforce such an agreement.

McAdam emphasises that governments can take concrete steps toward mitigating the effects of climate change by, for example, creating and enforcing building codes. “Now that’s not as exciting [or] sexy as a treaty, but it could actually stop people from being forced out of their homes,” she says. Listen to the full podcast, first released March 19, 2019, on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcast platforms.