Volume 93, No. 4, Summer 2021
By Jaya Ramji Nogales [PDF]

The literature on climate migration focuses on the attention‑grabbing situation of small island nations from which people have been forced to flee as their land has literally disappeared into the ocean. Though these migrants generally do not fit within the strictures of the UN Refugee Convention’s definition of a refugee, they are the locus of much legal attention. In the words of Hilary Charlesworth, “[i]nternational lawyers revel in a good crisis.” On the flip side of that equation, international lawyers and law itself are not so enamored of slow‑moving events. Slow‑onset climate change renders agricultural livelihoods unsustainable over time, in some cases provoking permanent cross‑border migration. International law relating to migration largely overlooks these less dramatic causes of migration, as its narrow scope and focus on cause and crisis fit uneasily with slow‑onset climate migration. Drawing from a case study of smallholding farmers in Guatemala, this Essay argues that international law should utilize a human mobility framework, taking direction from those affected by slow‑onset climate change.