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Othering and Belonging Institute studies effects of climate change on displaced people

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AUGUST 07, 2023

On July 27, UC Berkeley’s Othering and Belonging Institute published a study conducted by its Global Justice Program, or GJP, which focused on how the climate crisis and natural disasters have led to mass displacement.

Hossein Ayazi, senior researcher at the GJP, said more than 70% of all people displaced worldwide come from climate-vulnerable countries. These countries are often former colonies, magnifying the impact of climate change.

“This study is about the dire nature of the climate crisis—specifically, the rise of mass displacement caused by short- and long-term natural disasters; the exploitative and extractive histories and structures that gave rise to the climate crisis in the first place and continue to produce vulnerability to climate impacts; and the uneven experience of the causes and impacts of the climate crisis,” Ayazi said in an email.

The study looked at the history and structures that led to the climate crisis and how these systems impact different communities’ vulnerability to climate change, Ayazi explained.

The GJP pursued this study because of limited protections for people displaced due to climate change. The research focused on displaced people forced to cross international borders for natural disaster protection.

According to Ayazi, they decided to pursue this study because of the “dire need” to create a society that is climate resilient, meaning people do not need to flee to survive.

Ayazi, along with his colleagues Elsadig Elsheikh and Basima Sisemore, began the study based on research published by the GJP in 2019.

The study responds to the 27th U.N. Climate Conference where a loss and damage fund began to help climate-vulnerable countries. This fund ensures that the countries that caused much of the climate crisis must aid countries more vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

“In this study we wanted to explore and outline how civil society, policymakers and other stakeholders across the globe might advocate for guaranteed protections for climate-induced displaced persons within and beyond international refugee law, and how they might do so in ways that support and are supported by the fights for climate reparations and just transitions,” Ayazi said.

This research will help inform member-states, organizations and international entities about climate reparations and funding towards climate change resistance, according to Ayazi. It will be expanded upon with further research, policies and educational material with the hope of assisting marginalized communities in improving climate resilience.

Although there is increasing consensus among governing bodies and climate scientists that displacement is a result of climate change, protection for these displaced people is not legally binding and is limited in many ways, Ayazi said.

The lack of protection for climate-induced displaced people is particularly concerning because of the distinct impacts industrialized countries have on former colonies and marginalized countries.

“We at the Global Justice Program understand the Global South as not just the sites of colonial and capitalist exploitation, extraction and expropriation,” Ayazi said. “We also understand the Global South as actually the center of transformative ideas and action, which include the demands and principles outlined—for climate refugee protections, for transforming the very conditions that force people to leave their homes and communities, and for collective thriving altogether.”

Contact Laurel Spear at 


AUGUST 07, 2023