Mind the Gap: Lessons from a Review of Environmental-Induced Migration Definition and Policy Proposals

Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
University of Delaware
Despite the term “climate refugees” becoming widely used in the media to describe individuals fleeing adverse environmental events, cases such as Teitiota v. New Zealand (2021) demonstrate the term’s lack of defined legal rights. Despite this legal gap, the number of environmental-induced migrants is expected to increase. Scholars have sought to define these individuals and propose solutions to address this gap. This paper conducts a systematic literature review of papers that answers the following two questions: (1) How are ‘climate refugees’ being defined in the legal literature? and (2) What types of proposals are being discussed in legal scholarship to increase legal protections afforded to ‘climate refugees’? After collecting and analyzing the data from 60 articles, the paper provides a categorical framework to guide a content analysis of both definitions and proposals. Through a content analysis, this paper identifies three main barriers to crafting an effective response to environmental-induced migration: integrating multi-causality into selecting a definition, overcoming a lack of political will to adopt a hard-law solution and using a climate justice lens to craft a substantive proposal. By discussing these barriers, this paper also identifies useful practices that can be leveraged to address the current legal gap in face of an increasing number of environmental-induced migrants.
Climate refugees, Legal scholarship, Migration, Climate justice