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What We Owe to Climate Refugees


With the onset of ecological instability, by the middle of this century many people will be at risk of displacement due to anthropogenic climate change. People will be compelled to migrate internally as well as across international borders. In the dissertation I develop and defend the “theory of liveable locality” as a normative framework for understanding climate-based displacement and our obligations to climate refugees.

I directly consider the territorially exclusive and territorially all-encompassing nature of the state system and its conventional approach to addressing the consequences of its organizational structure. I argue that in light of this structure, every person affected by the territorial state system has the moral right to be somewhere liveable. I maintain that such a right has been overlooked. This is because in “normal” empirical conditions of centuries past, liveable spaces are provided to individuals by their country of nationality. Under conditions of climate change, however, when territorial integrity and the liveability of certain spaces can no longer be assumed, the territory of one’s birth may be compromised. These empirical conditions make this membership right visible.

I do not propose a radical restructuring of our current practices, but rather demonstrate that our current state system already has the capacity to protect climate refugees. Additionally, I argue that feminist philosophical considerations of climate refugees are a necessary and critical intervention, but also that they should go beyond addressing the ways climate change displacements are differentially experienced along gender lines. Such an approach must account for the way assumptions about gender construct discourse about the relationship between climate change and gender, especially in theory and policy discussions. I argue that the theory of liveable locality does so and thus establishes a foundation for a much needed feminist normative approach to the question of what we owe climate refugees.

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