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Articles by Julian Spector, CityLab

Julian Spector is an editorial fellow at the Atlantic CityLab.

Featured Article

A boy walks in a refugee camp in Bangladesh.

This story was originally published by CityLab and is reproduced here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The images have started to enter the public consciousness: the Pacific islander whose homeland is sinking beneath the waves, the Sahel villagers forced off their ancestral land by creeping drought and desertification. But even as climate change forces people from their homes, no clear legal consensus has appeared as to how the international community should deal with the problem.

The existing refugee convention doesn’t work. It specifically defines refugees as fleeing state persecution, not macro-level anthropogenic climate effects. It’s also very hard to determine who should count as a climate refugee, given all the intermingling factors that ultimately force someone to leave. That’s why the negotiators hashing out the world’s most important climate deal in Paris right now aren’t even considering language to grant rights to climate refugees.

Instead, advocates for environmentally displaced people are hoping the treaty will list migration and displacement as a priority for the future, but even that aim is up in the air due to a broader dispute pla... Read more