Environmental Migration in an Era of Accelerated Climate Change: Proposing a Normative Framework for International Migrant Rights and Domestic Migration Policy

  • Author / Creator
    Marshall, Nicole
  • This dissertation takes up the challenge of addressing the growing gap between international human rights and the changing face of migration in a period of accelerated climate change. The conditions of climate change are increasingly displacing peoples through rising sea levels, desertification and the resultant agricultural loss, and extreme storm activity. Yet, as the project demonstrates through its interpretivist methodology, the international human rights regime and domestic migration policies have struggled to keep pace with these changes, offering little to no protection to vulnerable forced environmental migrants. The dissertation’s central offerings include an ethico-political conceptualization of the problem of forced environmental migration and its own approach to defining categories of Environmentally Displaced Peoples. Its central argument – that Environmentally Displaced Peoples should have a right to migration and assisted adaptation, but that these rights are not adequately supported or guaranteed under an international regime committed to a Westphalian sovereign authority – is constructed through normative theory and then woven into an analysis of international law and representative domestic policy regimes related to environmental displacement. Its analysis reveals that while some recent advances in law and policy hold potential in terms of being able to address some of the challenges presented by Environmentally Displaced Peoples, the current state of the international regime and domestic policy falls short of meeting the full range of the normative and practical demands associated with an ethically-sound response to forced environmental migration. Exploring the roots of this challenge, the dissertation suggests that the challenges to the international community that are presented by forced environmental migration may run deeper than traditionally conceived by the field. Indeed, it considers that part of the reason for the gaps between Environmentally Displaced Peoples’ rights and their expression under the current international regime may stem from an inappropriate commitment to the preservation of the Westphalian sovereign state system as we enter what may be a new era of migration, increasingly defined by the conditions of climate change. Given the emerging nature of climate change displacement, the dissertation offers a temporally nested approach that targets both global and domestic politics. Its framework’s proposals include an urgent call for the international community to reduce carbon emissions, support adaptation assistance, adjust existing migration policy to better account for forced environmental migrants, and incorporate civil society and ‘norm entrepreneur’ strategies to advance normative goals and integrate a full range of actors in future policy developments. These actions, it argues, should further be nested in a long-term strategy that maximizes adaptation and migration assistance through a non-optional international adaptation assistance program that acknowledges capacity, capability, and culpability on the part of donating states. Significantly, this long-term strategy also holds that the global political community should move away from a strict adherence to the Westphalian sovereign state system and begin to usher in of an era of freer migration and more open borders that acknowledges a basic common responsibility for the well-being of Environmentally Displaced Peoples. The options of dual and, eventually, deterritorialized modes of citizenship and sovereignty are raised in an effort to maintain the political autonomy that is central to ideas of citizenship and the realization of rights and group identities, especially to the peoples of states currently facing extinction as a result of climate change (specifically, ‘sinking’ island nations). The demands for policy change advocated for by the dissertation are considerable, but it is believed that they are in keeping with the real challenges associated with forced environmental migration and the dissertation’s normative framework.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Fall 2015
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Doctor of Philosophy
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
  • Language
  • Institution
    University of Alberta
  • Degree level
  • Department
  • Supervisor / co-supervisor and their department(s)
  • Examining committee members and their departments
    • Kernerman, Gerald (Political Science
    • Kellogg, Catherine (Political Science)
    • Reif, Linda (Law)
    • Abu-Laban, Yasmeen (Political Science)