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Licensed Unlicensed Requires Authentication Published by De Gruyter December 18, 2013

Are We Morally Obligated to Assist Climate Change Migrants?

  • Katrina M. Wyman EMAIL logo


There is considerable concern that climate change will displace many people in developing countries from their homes. This article examines whether developed countries are morally obligated to assist people displaced by climate change in developing countries. The article argues that there may not be a moral duty to assist climate change migrants as a category. Nonetheless, developed countries may have duties to assist vulnerable people elsewhere and may be obligated to assist climate change migrants along with other vulnerable people. In addition, there likely is a duty to assist a particular subset of climate change migrants, specifically the citizens of small island countries existentially threatened by climate change. The article concludes by assessing the implications of its moral analysis for the focus of law and policy. Instead of developing new treaties to assist climate change migrants as a number of academics and practitioners have recently proposed, law and policy should be concerned with assisting migrants at risk generally, and/or the citizens of small island countries existentially threatened by climate change.


This article benefitted from comments from Moshe Cohen-Eliya, Ronit Donyets Kedar, János Kis, Tally Kritzman-Amir, and anonymous reviewers for Law & Ethics of Human Rights; a presentation to the Yale Law Women Developing Scholarship Series; and conversations with Benedict Kingsbury and Jeremy Waldron. At the Borders and Human Rights Workshop, I presented a paper via Skype which is now published as Responses to Climate Migration, 37 HARV. ENVTL. L. REV. 167 (2013). Itamar Mann provided very helpful comments on that paper at the workshop that influenced my thinking for this article. This article draws on, but also departs from and extends, my other work on climate migration. The Filomer D’Agostino and Max E. Greenberg Research Fund at New York University School of Law provided financial assistance.

Published Online: 2013-12-18
Published in Print: 2013-12-1

©2013 by De Gruyter

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