Migration and Forced Displacement from Climate Change

Course content

Climate change is perhaps the defining challenge of the contemporary era. Among its many costs are the human consequences for those who reside in places that are the most severely impacted. Ocean inundation, soil salination, sea-level rise, drought, floods and other extreme weather events are now threatening both the livability and even the existence of some countries. People are faced with the extremely difficult decisions about whether and when to leave, but where should they go?
This course will examine the contemporary issue of climate migration from it’s a legal perspective, while taking account of the topic’s complexity outside the law. While climate change has an undoubtable impact on people’s lives, it is usually not the sole reason a person or family will relocate. Migration decisions are complex and take place at the intersection of social, environmental, political and economic pressures.
The course will examine the legal protections available to climate-induced migrants. There is no single legal instrument which protects climate migrants and as such their rights and responsibilities are derived from various legal frameworks.


The course will be broken into themes as follows:

  • Who is a climate migrant? Conceptualising climate change as a migration trigger
  • The legal framework governing climate change and its relevance to climate migration including the UNFCCC and the Paris Agreement
  • Migration-based legal responses: the law governing migration (including in Denmark), and the relevance of the 1951 Refugee Convention
  • Protection-based legal responses: international human rights law and its application to climate change migrants
  • Legal responses to disasters and the intersection with climate change and migration
  • Disappearing states, statelessness and the application of the 1954 Statelessness Convention
  • Future responses, including the possibility of a new international treaty for climate migrants
Learning outcome

The course will balance the central theories of international law with the joint challenges of climate change and migration. Upon successful completion of the course, students will be able to:

  • Conceptualise climate change related migration, including as it relates to disappearing states, statelessness and relocation
  • Explain the tensions and distinctions between protection-based and migration-based legal responses to climate change migration, including the relevance of refugee law and human rights law
  • Identify and articluate the strengths and weaknesses of various emerging and proposed approaches to climate change related migration


The students will develop and further skills and competences in:

  • Identifying relevant legal frameworks, distinguishing between facts and law
  • Applying the law to specific fact circumstances
  • Constructing legal argument
  • Conceptualising a complex social dilemma into distinct legal constructs

The course has as its goal to provide students with a general knowledge the approach of international law to climate change and migration. Teaching and learning activities will include:
- Short student presentations in each class of assigned topics of contemporary news followed by group discussion of how those current events relate to the relevant law
- Peer feedback, especially after presentations
- Case studies utilising inductive learning techniques
- Group work on specific case studies
Cases studies will include, among others:
- The first cases of claims for refugee status by climate change migrants (New Zealand)
- Small island developing states (SIDS) and the proactive legal mechanisms they have employed to respond to ocean inundation (e.g. Kiribati, Vanutau, Fiji).
- Special status granted to people who migrate due to environmental disaster (e.g. Sweden, Finland, Argentina, UN High Commissioner for Refugees)
- Internal displacement in countries most vulnerable to climate change (e.g. Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, the Philippines)

Jane McAdam, Climate Change, Forced Migration and International Law (Oxford University Press, 2012)
Approximately 500 pages will be assigned reading. Readings will be posted on Absalon and will be divided into mandatory and optional reading.

Basic knowledge of public international law would be an advantage, but is not essential

Students must have a sound command of English in written and spoken form.

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Type of assessment
Written examination, 1 day
Assigned individual written assignment, 1 day
Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Preparation
  • 343,5
  • Seminar
  • 69
  • English
  • 412,5


Course number
Programme level
Bachelor choice

1 semester

  1. Students enrolled at Faculty of Law: No tuition fee
  2. Professionals: Please visit our website  
Please see timetable for teaching time
Contracting department
  • Law
Contracting faculty
  • Faculty of Law
Course Coordinator
  • Miriam Cullen   (13-77737c736b77386d7f76766f784a747f7c38757f386e75)
Saved on the 28-04-2021

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