Oct 28, 2020 - Energy & Environment

Wanted: A U.S. climate migration policy

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

A new analysis of migration influenced by climate change calls for changes to U.S. immigration policy that enable more targeted efforts to address the topic.

The big picture: Climate change is already driving migration through flooding, drought and other effects, with more expected in the future, according to a brief from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

Why it matters: "[C]limate migrants have little recourse within existing international frameworks and systems, or domestic U.S. law, that otherwise govern migration and forced displacement," CSIS notes.

  • That stems partly from the "difficulty of attributing climate change to human mobility as a singular — or even predominate — causal factor."

What they're saying: The report recommends ways that U.S. immigration policy could better deal with climate migrants and strengthen international efforts.

  • One of the ideas is that the Congress should create a new version of the Temporary Protected Status program "specifically for people temporarily displaced by climate change-related disasters."
  • Another idea is a "climate migrant resettlement program" for people permanently displaced by "rising sea levels, human heat thresholds, and/or agricultural tipping points."
  • The multilateral recommendations include a new Western Hemisphere regional compact on cross-border displacement, as a way to start "expanding the international legal architecture" on the topic.

What we're watching: Whether Joe Biden, if he wins, might weigh these or similar ideas.

What we don't know: The number of climate migrants, a tricky thing to count or even define.

  • The Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimates an average of over 21 million people annually left home over the last decade due to storms, floods, droughts and other events, the report notes.
  • But parsing out the role of climate change in the displacement is tough.
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