The Governance of Environmental Mobility

Master's Thesis


The most recent report published by the United Nations (UN) Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has indicated that the catastrophic impacts of climate breakdown may soon outpace humanity’s ability to adapt.[1] According to UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “The report is an atlas of human suffering and a damning indictment of failed climate leadership.”[2] Climate breakdowns impact every facet of society and exacerbate underlying inequalities that force a growing number of people to make the precarious decision to remain home or move. This is because climate change and migration are inextricably linked. As the impacts of climate change increase and intensify, so does the internal and cross-border migration that overwhelms unprepared and unresponsive local, national, regional, and international systems.

This paper is a primer for academics and policymakers on the interrelated complexities, existing protection gaps, and future possibilities in the governance of environmental mobility. Chapter one provides a detailed look into the intersectional impacts climate change has on human systems, leading to internal and cross-border movement. Chapter two discusses the environmental migrant protection gap that persists despite the mechanisms from the State to the international level that can but have not yet, provided reliable protection to environmental migrants. Chapter three demonstrates the growing global recognition of the environmental migrant protection gap and highlights the significant obstacles and potential opportunities facing policymakers as they seek to close the gap. Chapter four ends with a call to action that focuses on the need for a universal terminology and definition of environmental migrants, the potential of regional Free Movement Agreements (FMAs), and the imperative that States implement initiatives that address the root causes of movement and create legal pathways that respect the dignity and agency of environmental migrants.

[1] Pörtner, H. et al. (2022, February 27). Climate Change 2022: Impacts, Adaptation, and Vulnerability: Summary for Policymakers. IPCC Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Retrieved from

[2] United Nations. (2022, February 28). IPCC Adaptation Report ‘A Damning Indictment of Failed Global Leadership on Climate.’ United Nations News. Retrieved from


Attribute NameValues
Author Kimberlie Orr
Contributor Erin Corcoran, Research Director
Contributor William C. Donahue, Research Director
Contributor Diane Desierto, Committee Member
Degree Level Master's Thesis
Degree Discipline Global Affairs
Degree Name Master of Global Affairs
Banner Code
  • MGA

Submission Date 2022-04-11
Record Visibility Public
Content License
  • All rights reserved

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