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Climate change poses significant challenges at the intersection of human and public health, mobility, and international law. Adverse climate impacts undermine the quality of human and public health, contributing to increasing global mobility, while climate-impacted migrants and displaced people can experience severe health challenges in transit and in their receiving communities. Moreover, the nexus between climate change, human and public health, and mobility exacerbates pre-existing vulnerabilities, undermining human rights and implicating State obligations. As international and regional courts, including the International Court of Justice (ICJ), clarify states’ duty to protect people from the adverse impacts of climate change, it is critical to consider the nexus of human and public health and mobility. Health and mobility interact in the context of climate change in three major ways. First, numerous direct and indirect climate impacts negatively affect human and public health--including by increasing food insecurity, heat-related illnesses, and diseases resulting from limited access to clean water. These health challenges can contribute individually or collectively to the decision or need to flee home. Second, climate change intensifies the health-related risks that migrants and displaced people encounter in transit. Third, movement to urban centers in response to climate impacts may strain resources and subject displaced people to living conditions hazardous to their health, especially where receiving communities do not provide sufficient housing, resources, and access to medical care. International legal frameworks are crucial in guaranteeing the health-related rights of climate migrants and displaced people. The nexus of climate change, health, and mobility implicates a range of international legal principles and norms deriving from human rights and refugee law, including the rights to health and life and non-refoulement. Emerging international standards also encourage states to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and support adaptation in order to improve the quality of life and potentially prevent the displacement of people impacted by climate change and climate-related disasters.

This paper uses a law and science perspective to examine the critical nexus of climate change, mobility and human and public health. It surveys scientific evidence linking climate change to adverse health outcomes and human mobility, considering the impacts of both sudden and slow-onset climate events. This report seeks to inform the ICJ’s consideration of States' obligations regarding climate protection by identifying international legal standards and state obligations to protect the health and wellbeing of climate-impacted people, including those who move internally or across borders. The report also serves as a resource for advocates and 2 governments on the effects of climate mobility on human health and public health and defines legal interventions and policies that can protect and improve human and public health in a changing climate. While efforts to mitigate climate change are paramount, irreversible environmental changes necessitate anticipatory measures to protect migrants and displaced people, both in transit and in destination communities. States must uphold refugee and human rights law, refrain from returning people to danger, offer safe mobility pathways, and guarantee non-discriminatory access to resources and services essential to protect human and public health.


Health Law and Policy | Human Rights Law | International Law | Law