Climate Change, Disasters and Human Mobility

Course content

Climate change is the defining challenge of the contemporary era. Sea level rise, drought, and more frequent and intense weather hazards, such as hurricanes, intense rainfall events and resultant damage from landslides, floods, soil salination etc, can have severe consequences for places and people ill-prepared for them. Individuals, families and households can face difficult decisions about whether they can move out of harm’s way, and if they can, when to leave and where to go. This course examines the contemporary issue of climate change and disaster and their impacts on human mobility from it’s a legal perspective, while taking account of the topic’s complexity outside the law.


Case studies of mobility in the context of climate-related impacts and disaster will be drawn from Greenland, island states and territories facing ocean inundation from sea level rise, flooding events in Europe, drought and intersections with armed conflict in Ethiopia, Somalia and Yemen, the situation in Haiti, and the 2022 Turkey earthquake, as well as other situations and events as they arise throughout the course.


The course will be cover the following questions and themes:

  • Why is the term “climate refugee” problematic? Conceptualising climate change as a factor that is causing and impeding human mobility, both within and across borders.
  • Examination of the nexus between climate change, armed conflict, and other push factors associated with human mobility, and the legal protections available under refugee law, and regional arrangements, depending on how mobility is classified, and by whom
  • Legal responses to disasters, their prevention and response, and the intersection with human mobility including evacuation and planned relocation.
  • The relevance of human rights law, with case studies before domestic and international courts and tribunals, including the application of the principle of non-refoulement in the context of climate change (Teitiota v New Zealand)
  • Legal protections afforded to Indigenous Peoples, people with disabilities, and children, in the context of climate and disaster-related human mobility.
  • The notion of “disappearing” states, statelessness and the relevance and application of the statelessness conventions
  • The legal framework governing climate change where it is relevant to disaster risk reduction and climate-related human mobility, including the work of the Taskforce on Displacement and recent trends in climate change litigation under human rights regimes.
  • Solutions available through legal frameworks, including options and methods for opening regular migration pathways, enhancing local resilience to climate related hazards through planning, property and human rights law, and the (im)possibility of a new international treaty.


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:

  • Explain the tensions and distinctions between protection-based and migration-based legal responses, including the relevance of refugee law and human rights law
  • Understand and apply relevant law to situations in which people are on the move in the context of disaster or climate change-related phenomena
  • Conceptualise climate and disaster-related human mobility, including as it relates to disaster risk reduction, armed conflict, and historical inequality
  • Identify and articulate the strengths and weaknesses of various emerging and proposed legal responses to climate change and disaster-related human mobility


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

Every year, students are asked to prepare a reserach assignment in groups as part of the course based on a problem presented to them by a professional engaged in responding to climate-related displacement on the ground, a legal practitioner preparing cases in the field, or a person who is themselves displaced or facing displacement due to climate change related impacts. This means the students are actively engaged in researching real-world problems to identify and provide legal solutions in real time.

To ensure a diversity of perspectives and the most up-to-date teaching material, assigned readings will be drawn from a variety of authors and perspectives. Materials will be divided into optional and mandatory readings. Students are not expected to buy any books as part of the course. Students wishing to familiarize themselves with the topic may wish to read: 

  • Jane McAdam, Climate Change, Forced Migration and International Law (Oxford University Press, 2012)


It is illegal to share digital textbooks with each other without permission from the copyright holder.

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

Previous Migration and Forced Displacement from Climate Change

Continuous feedback during the course of the semester
Type of assessment
Home assignment, 1 day
Type of assessment details
Assigned individual written assignment, 1 day

Read about the descriptions of the individual exam forms, including formal requirements, scope and deadlines in the exam catalogue
Read about practical exam conditions at KUnet


Marking scale
7-point grading scale
Censorship form
No external censorship
Exam period

6.-7. January 2025


12.-13. February 2025

Single subject courses (day)

  • Category
  • Hours
  • Preparation
  • 340,5
  • Seminar
  • 72
  • 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   (13-79757e756d793a6f817878717a4c76817e3a77813a7077)
Saved on the 30-04-2024

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