Adaptation in an era of vanishing territory – the political economy of the impact of climate change versus total migration, status of statehood and refugees in Africa

04 Nov 2015

Mass migration as a way of adapting to climate change impact is not new. However, the total migration of a permanent population from a defined territory as a coping response to the impact of climate change is only emerging. The development in such territories as the Marshall Islands raises a fresh concern about the possibility of total migration of a population from the territory which they have long occupied as a state, a development which has implications for low lying states in Africa such as Sao Tome and Principe and Madagascar which may stand the risk of submergence due to global warming. Yet, increase in sea level is not the only occurrence that may result in total migration of a population. The removal of a population from a defined territory may also be in response to other impacts including water availability, food security, health and extreme weather condition. When the whole population of a defined state totally migrates, it highlights the centrality of human survival to the topic of climate change. More importantly, it poses certain questions in international life namely, whether a whole population forced to leave in another territory still retain a claim to statehood? Equally too, it introduces the concept of climate induced migration as a factor to be considered in evaluating the legal status for refugeehood.