GENEVA (Reuters): A newly appointed U.N. expert on climate change and human rights said he will fight for legal protection for people driven across international borders by extreme weather, drought and rising sea levels, he said on Thursday.
Ian Fry, a former negotiator for the tiny low-lying Pacific nation of Tuvalu which risks sinking due to rising sea levels, started last month as the U.N. Special Rapporteur on human rights and climate change.
“We are faced with an intolerable tide of people moving from their homes due to the impacts of climate change,” he said on Thursday, presenting his priorities to the U.N Human Rights Council in Geneva which created the new mandate.
Fry, who fought for least developed countries at the 2015 Paris climate conference, added that so-called climate refugees would be one of six priorities for his new mandate over the next three years.
Aid agencies say millions of people have been forced from their homes by climate change. However they are not covered by a 1951 Convention on refugees, meaning they have no grounds for seeking asylum under international law.
“Hopefully we can highlight gaps in the legal protection for people and try to initiate some sort of action to get some legal approach to protecting people in that situation whether through international law or regional agreements,” he told Reuters on the sidelines of the session.
Fry said that changing the convention would likely face resistance but said he would explore other legal avenues, without giving specifics.
Separately, he also told the Geneva-based Council he planned to visit countries in the so-called “Central America dry corridor” suffering from drought.
Another priority for Fry’s mandate will be the issue of “loss and damage” including the idea of a new damages fund sought by vulnerable nations but not agreed on at the U.N. Glasgow Climate talks in 2021. The issue will be raised again at the COP27 talks in Egypt later this year.