Addressing Climate Migration through the Platform on Disaster Displacement: The Theory

by Virginia Raffaeli

People have always migrated as a consequence of natural disasters and climate impacts [1]. Extreme weather events such as droughts, forest fires, or flooding have taken place throughout history, and have the potential to force entire communities to move, as was the case with the temporary or permanent relocation of millions of people following the flooding and destruction caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2008 [2]. According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and experts on migration, however, the scale of the phenomenon of climate migration is predicted to increase exponentially, with up to 1.2 billion people displaced by 2050 [3, 4, 5]. Importantly, people will migrate not just internally within one country but also across international borders [4].

From the need for humanitarian assistance to human rights protection, social tensions and economic development, both domestic and transnational migration on a large scale bring along a variety of legal, humanitarian and development challenges [6].

New avenues have thus been devised to address the challenges of mass displacement in a holistic manner. The Platform on Disaster Displacement ( is one of them [7].

The need for a holistic and coherent approach

Each year millions of people migrate either within their own country or abroad because of natural disasters such as floods, tropical storms, droughts, glacier melting, earthquakes and other natural hazards [7]. Displacements on such a large scale present complex humanitarian and development challenges for both individuals and communities, domestically and transnationally, which include lack of access to food, clean water and medical facilities, as well as discrimination and social exclusion [6, 8].

Moreover, as mentioned in one of our previous articles, which addresses sea level rise in Kiribati, the internationally recognised definition of ‘refugees’ found in Article 1(A)(2) of the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention defines a ‘refugee’ as someone who is “persecuted” on the basis of “race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion” [9]. Therefore, it excludes all those who migrate from their own country to another as a consequence of natural disasters or extreme weather events, depriving them of legal protection and of the means through which to claim the most basic human rights [10].

Although new strategies are being identified to address the legal challenges presented by climate-related migration, the complexity of the phenomenon is making it increasingly clear that only a holistic and coherent approach to the protection of people displaced across borders in the context of disasters and climate change [11].

The Nansen Initiative

Following a 2010 call to action to address displacement related to climate change, in 2012 Norway and Switzerland joined forces to launch the Nansen Initiative, a state-led consultative process which resulted in the 2015 Agenda for the Protection of Cross-Border Displaced Persons in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change (Protection Agenda), which was endorsed by 109 states [11].

The aim of the Protection Agenda is to provide states with the instruments to manage the risk of disaster displacement in the country of origin, and to protect cross-border disaster-displaced persons [7]. In order to achieve this, the Agenda supports the integration of effective practices by states and regional actors into their normative frameworks, thus taking into account each specific context.

Although the Protection Agenda itself is not binding, the Platform on Disaster Displacement (PDD) was subsequently launched at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit by the states supporting the Nansen Initiative, with the aim of bringing states and non-state actors together in order to facilitate the implementation of the Agenda’s recommendations [7].

As will be illustrated in more depth in the second instalment of this two-part series on the role of the Platform on Disaster Displacement, by building strong partnerships between policy-makers, practitioners and researchers and providing a multi-stakeholder forum for dialogue, information sharing, and both policy and normative development, the state-led PDD is taking a lead role in the prevention and management of climate-induced displacement.


[1] Borges I.M. (2018). Environmental Change, Forced Displacement and International Law: From Legal Protection Gaps to Protection Solutions. Milton, Routledge: 16.
[2] Sastry N., Gregory J. (2014). The Location of Displaced New Orleans Residents in the Year After Hurricane Katrina. Demography, 51 (3): 4,
[3] Brown O. (2008). Migration and Climate Change. International Organisation for Migration Research Series, 31: 11-12.
[4] McAdam J. (2020). Protecting People Displaced by the Impacts of Climate Change: The UN Human Rights Committee and the Principle of Non-Refoulement. American Journal of International Law, 114(4): 712, 709,
[5] Henley J. (2020). Climate crisis could displace 1.2bn people by 2050, report warns. The Guardian. Available at: [Accessed 10 August 2021].
[6] ‘Initiative: Platform on Disaster Displacement,’ Agenda for Humanity. Available at [Accessed 24 July 2021].
[7] The Nansen Initiative (2015). Agenda for the Protection of Cross Border Disaster Displaced Persons in the Context of Disasters and Climate Change. Volume I: 16. URL: [Accessed on 6 Aug 2021].
[8] Ferris E. (2008). Displacement, Natural Disasters, and Human Rights. The Brookings Institution. Available at [Accessed 15 August 2021]..
[9] 1951 Geneva Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, 189 UNTS 137 (adopted 28 July 1951, entered into force 22 April 1954), Art. 1A(2).
[10] McAdam J. (2012). Conceptualising Climate Change-Related Movement, in American Society of International Law (2012). Confronting Complexity, Vol. 16, Proceedings of 106th Annual Meeting, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press: 433-436,
[11] McAdam, J. (2016). From the Nansen Initiative to the Platform on Disaster Displacement: Shaping International Approaches to Climate Change, Disasters and Displacement. University of New South Wales Law Journal, Vol. 39, No. 4, 2016, UNSW Law Research Paper No. 17-4: 1520-1527,
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