CLA News / Borneo Rainforest Law Conference session report: Climate crisis refugees and climate colonialism


Chaired by Yvonne Brown (Jamaica), the session started with Narindar Kang KC of Canada (who has  a background in both science and law, and has firm which includes a focus on immigration law).

Narindar  reviewed the science related to climate change and specifically reminded the attendees about climate colonialism and helpfully, proposed a definition of  a climate crisis refugee:

‘persons or groups of persons, who, for reasons of sudden or progressive climate related changes in the environment, that adversely affects their lives, or living conditions, are  obliged to leave their habitual homes, either temporarily or permanently, and who move either within their country or abroad’. 

Raj Johal, Canada, gave the Canadian perspective as to how Canada’s  Immigration and Refugee Act’s  ‘humanitarian and compassionate’ category  could be used for climate change refugees making an application for permanent refugee status in Canada.  Raj also identified the factors which would impact an approval within the humanitarian category,  which include gender, the rights of children, and the  impact on indigenous peoples and those with physical challenges.

Mark Ortega of Singapore gave real life examples of migrant workers who work on climate adaptation projects and disaster recovery and proposed  that countries recognize a distinct transnational community (“climate adaptation essential workers”). Mark proposed then posed options for implementing and funding the migration of such workers,  including the UN’s  loss and damage fund, finding opportunities within international treaties or regional agreements, and local legislation regarding  labor rights and protection for workers, such as Canada’s expansion of permanent residency to those refugees who worked in health care during the Covid 19 pandemic.)

Laurie Pawlitza

CLA VP Americas