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A Somalian refugee helps to dig a latrine on the outskirts of the IFO refugee camp Oli Scarff/Getty Images

The Coming Wave of Climate Displacement

Not since 1951 has the international community produced a treaty to protect the legal status of the world's refugees. Now, two agreements are currently under discussion at the United Nations, and each offers a rare opportunity to protect global migrants from the biggest source of displacement today.

JOHANNESBURG – Governments around the world are engaged in a series of talks that could fundamentally alter how the movement of people across borders is managed. One dialogue is focused on the protection of refugees; the other on migration.

These discussions, which are being led by the United Nations, will not result in legally binding agreements. But the talks themselves are a rare chance to forge consensus on contemporary migration challenges. And, most importantly, they will offer the international community an opportunity to plan for the impact of climate change, which will soon become a key driver of global displacement and migration.

At last count, there were some 258 million migrants worldwide, with 22.5 million people registered as refugees by the UN Refugee Agency. These numbers will be dwarfed if even the most modest climate-related predictions are borne out. According to the International Organization for Migration, climate change could displace as many as one billion people by 2050. And yet no international treaty covers climate-induced migration – a gap that must be addressed now.

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