Volume 93, No. 4, Summer 2021
By Maxine Burkett [PDF]

The scope of my current research project extends to over a decade of interest in the dramatic shifts climate change will bring to human mobility, which is ushering in a twenty‑first-century “brand” of movement. My climate migration work kicked off during the 2009 United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change’s (UNFCCC) Conference of the Parties meeting in Copenhagen, which was meant to set the post‑Kyoto direction for the global community. At that time, Ronald Jumeau, Seychelles ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, exhorted legal minds to do the thorny and complex work that certain climate migration scenarios might introduce. His particular concern was the plight of small island nations that face the specter of permanent loss of habitable territory. At a conference side event, Ambassador Jumeau asked the rapt audience:

When we relocate, what happens to the resources you may have on the   seabed? . . . When you relocate and you lose your country, what happens? What’s your status in the country you relocate to? Who are you? Do you have a government there? Government of what? There hasn’t been a government of refugees before.

The frontlines will recede; such is the nature of a changing climate. Loss of habitability concerns are, therefore, universal. According to Jumeau, however: “If you save the islands of the world, you save everybody.”