The Arbitrary Project of Protecting Environmental Migrants


Book section


Mayer, B.


The Arbitrary Project of Protecting Environmental Migrants




McLeman, Robert
Schade, Jeanette
Faist, Thomas

Book Title

Environmental Migration and Social Inequality


Springer International Publishing


The literature of environmental migration is divided. Some authors call for the protection of environmental migrants. Others argue that the concept is arbitrary and protection should be extended to all forced migrants. This chapter identifies three narratives: the rights narrative , the responsibility narrative , and the security narrative . I argue that none of these narratives justifies the implementation of a new governance mechanism for environmental migrants, who are not distinctively more vulnerable than other categories of migrants or non-migrants. Yet, this chapter also shows that virtually nothing in the contemporary governance of migration is based on systematic rational arguments. For example, the nexus requirement in the conventional definition of a refugee excludes many from the protection they need. This shows that the international governance of migration is largely framed by what states perceive as their own interests rather than by ethical considerations. Despite the arbitrariness, the concepts of environmental migration and climate migration could generate change because they attract significant attention. Other challenges are related to the definitions of migrant categories in need of protection—recognizing that states would prefer a narrow definition of environmental migrant. Essentially, protection of environmental migrants must be viewed as a first step toward the protection of the most vulnerable and must contribute to developing the capacities of the states most impacted by environmental degradation.


Mayer, B. (2016). The Arbitrary Project of Protecting Environmental Migrants. Environmental Migration and Social Inequality. R. McLeman, J. Schade and T. Faist. Cham, Springer International Publishing: 189-200. URL :