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Fraternity, Responsibility and Sustainability: The International Legal Protection of Climate (or Environmental) Migrants at the Crossroads

Mayer, Benoît. 2011. Fraternity, Responsibility and Sustainability: The International Legal Protection of Climate (or Environmental) Migrants at the Crossroads. Earth System Governance Working Paper, No.14.


A revised version of this working paper has been published as:

Mayer, Benoît. 2012. The International Legal Protection of Climate (or Environmental) Migrants: Fraternity, Responsibility and Sustainability”, in Michel Morin et al., Responsibility, Fraternity and Sustainability in Law: In Memory of the Honourable Charles Doherty Gonthier (Markham, ON: LexisNexis Canada, 2012) 723 and (2012) 56 Supreme Court Law Review [Canada] 723. 

Many lands are becoming uninhabitable because of anthropogenic global warming, either through the rise in sea level and increasingly severe climate dangers (e.g. Bangladesh, the Maldives) or through desertification (e.g. Nigeria, Egypt), resulting in large displacements. An argument for an international protection of climate migrants may be derived from different notions and different branches of literature, resulting in dramatic differences relating to the nature and the scope of states’ obligations, as well as to the content of climate migrants’ protected rights. Firstly, fraternity – through the notions of an international responsibility to protection Human Rights of foreign populations whose state is unable to do so – would call to an expensive protection of environmental migrants, yet failing at convincing states to commit themselves in early and preventive or systematic action. Responsibility – through state responsibility for an internationally wrongful act, the common but differentiated responsibility principle or the doctrine of unjust enrichment – would single out climate change induced migrants, but, in the current state of international law, it may be difficult to implement as a genuinely legal concept. Lastly, sustainability may call for an international action focusing on the protection of peace and security. In particular, the notion of “human security” may reconcile the strong incentive of the security discourse with the human rights protection paradigm. 

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