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Climate displacement is one the largest human rights challenges of the modern era. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the Stern Review, among many other studies, warn that the effects of climate change – including rising sea levels, heavier floods, more frequent and severe storms, drought and desertification – will cause large-scale population movements, and the massive loss of housing, land and property resources. Climate displacement presents an urgent problem for the international community, and one, which current international norms may not yet adequately address.

The existence and scale of climate change displacement are often established by reference to the likely numbers of displaced people; figures range from 50 million to 1 billion. The most cited estimate, that of the Oxford academic Norman Myers, is 200 million climate change migrants by 2050, or one person in every forty- five of Earth’s population threatened with climate displacement . While no one knows with any certainty what climate change will ultimately mean, there is a clear consensus that climate change has already begun to cause displacement and that it will lead to further forced displacement in the years and decades to come. Countries where DS works such as Bangladesh, Kiribati, Panama, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands, Tuvalu and others are already experiencing for population movements because of climate-related factors.

Many international agencies, including the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) now fully accept the seriousness of the looming climate displacement crisis and are slowly building both the capacity and political support required to expand their attention to this emerging area of concern. Many governments have also expressed serious concerns about the human impacts of climate change within their countries, in particular, those that stand to face mass displacement and resultant economic and social disruption. Countries such as Bangladesh, Vietnam, Kiribati, the Maldives, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu and many others are at the frontline of climate displacement and have been tirelessly advocating for more international attention and action on their plight. These same governments and others, including Costa Rica, Germany, Mexico, Norway and Switzerland, have also expressed concern that existing international legal standards and protection measures may not be sufficient to protect the rights of those displaced beyond the borders of their countries because of changes to the climate.

Building on work carried out since 2008 on climate displacement under Displacement Solutions’ Climate Change and Displacement Initiative (CCDI), this project – The Climate Displacement Law Initiative – focuses on a series of actions and outputs designed to bolster both the international normative framework on climate displacement law, as well as national legislation of a similar nature. The project has had a number of results thus far, the most important of which is the adoption in August 2013 of a major new international soft law standard on climate displacement, the Peninsula Principles on Climate Displacement Within States. Global advocacy for the Principles, domestic legal reform efforts in support of climate displaced people in particularly threatened countries such as Bangladesh, Fiji, Kiribati, Panama, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and others, the publication of a major academic book on the issues concerned and other measures in support of new laws on climate displacement are all ongoing. 

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The Peninsula Principles at 10

This year, we celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Peninsula Principles. A series of meetings, a number of activitations and a wide range of media ahem been produced to mark this auspicious occasion.

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