Environmental migrants in the activities of international organizations: the issue of the definition and other legal problems
Climate change and environmental conditions are increasingly connected to phenomena of mass migration. Although it is extremely hard to show evidence that migration uniquely derives from specific climatic or environmental conditions, environmental migrants, environmental refugees, and internally displaced persons on environmental grounds are emerging categories that pose a number of legal problems. Given the unestablished nature of the above-mentioned concepts, this contribution aims to present existing debates over the legal status of and the legal regimes applicable to environmental migrants, with particular reference to the practice of international organizations. This paper will address both the question of whether and to what extent environmental migrants have distinguishing features with respect to the categories of migrants protected under international law and the issue of whether a distinct legal regime is needed. Scholars argue in this regard that there is a legal gap when it comes to regulating environmental migration, since environmental refugees are not protected under any of the existing legal regimes protecting migrants. The practice of international organizations does not seem to point to an unequivocal response concerning what regimes are applicable to environmental migrants. Indeed, the categories of environmental migrant and environmentally displaced person are gaining importance and will probably contribute to the evolution of international law concerning migration.