People forced from their homes by the impacts of climate change have no legal definition under international (or American) refugee law, but the Biden administration may seek to change that, the AP reports. The matter is urgent. A UN World Meteorological Organization report released Monday showed an average of 23 million people were forced from their homes every year in the last decade, though most remained in their own countries and would thus not have met the standard criteria for “refugees.” Who would be included in a definition of a “climate refugee” — and what events that force a person from their home country would qualify — will be complicated questions of major importance as sea level rise and extreme hurricanes and droughts become more widespread.
Early in his administration, President Biden ordered a report, due in August, on how to identify and resettle people directly or indirectly displaced by climate change. Recently, destruction unleashed by Hurricanes Eta and Iota have forced Central Americans to flee their homelands. “No nation in the world has taken the leadership to address this reality, which we face today,” said Krish Vignarajah, head of Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service. “It’s not an issue that we can punt to 20, 30 years from now. Our hope is the U.S. can take strong action that will produce a domino effect on other nations.” (AP)