By 2050, climate change may well have robbed about 200 million people of their homes and livelihoods. In just 40 years, one person in every 45 people in the world may be displaced. but there is no mechanism yet in international law to deal with these people.
UWA lawyer David Hodgkinson is working hard to change that. He leads a small group of UWA law graduates, staff and a student in an international project to draft a convention for people displaced by climate change.
“We have been working on the draft convention since late 2008,” Associate Professor Hodgkinson said. “Our first publication was a short piece in the Institute of Advanced studies’ online journal The New Critic.
“Since then we have been talking and writing and slowly gathering international support. Tess Burton and I have done most of the writing and we have presented our ideas around the world including Melbourne, London, Copenhagen and Vancouver.”
“We are soon to publish a 50-page article in the journal Public Policy and the Monash University Law Review.
We will make a presentation at the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change conference in Cancun, Mexico later this year.”
A/Professor Hodgkinson said most people focused on the fate of Pacific Islands and countries such as Bangladesh when discussing climate change displacement.
“But most of the migration will be internal, by people moving inland from coastal regions, leaving farms because of continuing drought or moving away from areas that are experiencing more frequent and severe weather conditions.”
He uses the term climate change migrants rather than refugees, as most of the people affected will not be crossing borders and will not be outside the country of their nationality.
“They are also not victims of political or religious persecution, so it is not appropriate to call them refugees. But they will still need assistance.
“Ideally every country in the world would be a party to the convention, with developed countries contributing to a fund to assist countries in need.”
He said that, with the likely failure of Australia’s emissions trading scheme and the disappointment of Copenhagen, interest in dealing with climate change may have lessened.
And a seeming increase in climate change denial hasn’t helped.
“But the science is undeniable. No matter what we do, climate change displacement will happen and countries will need to be prepared for it.”
A/Professor Hodgkinson (pictured right) said climate change mitigation was becoming harder with every passing year. “The longer we leave it to try to reduce the effects, the less able we are to deal with it. Our convention is a form of climate change adaptation. It will enable people to adapt to the effects of climate change, with legal frameworks in place to deal with displacement.”
Supporting A/Professor Hodgkinson (also a special counsel at Clayton Utz and Executive Director of Ecocarbon) and former UWA law school lecturer and human rights lawyer Tess Burton are Winthrop Professor of Political Science and International Relations, Alex Coram; economist and Warden of UWA Convocation, Simon Dawkins; UWA graduate and Legal Aid solicitor Lucy Young; and Law/Arts student Heather Anderson.
“We are a small but disparate group that is entirely self-funded. And we are working to gain international acceptance of our proposal to establish an international regime for the status and treatment of climate change displaced people,” A/Professor Hodgkinson said.