The Kaldor Centre’s two written submissions to the US State Department’s review of migration in the context of climate change, posted today, provide a wide-ranging analysis of the policy challenges confronting the Biden Administration as it seeks to exert fresh global leadership on this issue.

In February, President Biden ordered a government study of climate change's impact on migration, including options for refugee resettlement. Some analysts say the US effort could put the nation ‘at the “cutting edge" of an issue that has gotten scant attention, even in the Paris climate agreement and the global compacts on refugees and migration’. 

The Kaldor Centre’s Director, Jane McAdam, has been a legal pioneer in the conceptualisation of protection and mobility in the context of climate change and disasters. Invited to be part of the consultations now underway with the State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, McAdam has authored two submissions – one with Kaldor affiliates Erica Bower, Sanjula Weerasinghe and Dr Tamara Wood as well.

Biden set a deadline of 180 days for the report, asking for, ‘at a minimum, discussion of the international security implications of climate-related migration; options for protection and resettlement of individuals displaced directly or indirectly from climate change; mechanisms for identifying such individuals, including through referrals; proposals for how these findings should affect use of United States foreign assistance to mitigate the negative impacts of climate change; and opportunities to work collaboratively with other countries, international organizations and bodies, non-governmental organizations, and localities to respond to migration resulting directly or indirectly from climate change.’

The Kaldor Centre’s first submission covers the impacts of climate change on migration, protection and resettlement. The second focuses specifically on relocation, evacuations and statelessness in the context of climate change.

In response to a question about planned relocations, the second Kaldor Centre submission by Jane McAdam notes the Malthusian echoes in today’s debate. ‘Deliberations about planned relocation in the context of climate and disasters change in many ways echo those of the early 20th century about surplus population: concerns about the ‘carrying capacity’ of land, ‘resource scarcity’, ‘overcrowding’, ‘danger zones’ and conflict.’

She also references little-remembered US history:

‘During the 1930s and 1940s, the International Labour Organization (ILO) was involved in trial ‘migration for settlement’ projects,  and ‘resettlement was regarded as a solution for groups of displaced refugees – including by US President Franklin D Roosevelt, who established a secret project to scour the world for possible resettlement sites. 

‘At that time, and in contrast to today, refugee resettlement was envisaged precisely as a group-based solution – the re-establishment of an ethnic community (e.g. Jews) elsewhere – rather than a strategy pursued by individuals or households. Arguably, it was the political failure of proposed large-scale resettlement schemes that caused post-war refugee resettlement to become an individualised solution.’ 

Now, in the post-1951 Convention system, the US is under pressure to develop solutions for mobility in a warming world. Even last month, Vice President Kamala Harris said that ‘extreme climate incidents’ such as hurricanes were destroying crops in Central America and prompting more people to flee to the US.

You can read the full submissions, dated 28 May and the second dated 7 June


Image: Unsplash/Tabrez Syed