3) Help or High Water

“Help or High Water: On the Moral Entitlements of and State Responsibilities to Climate Refugees”

Kincaid, Jordan Michael (Ph.D., Environmental Studies Program)

Help or High Water: On the Moral Entitlements of and State Responsibilities to Climate Refugees
Thesis directed by Associate Professor Benjamin S. Hale

This dissertation argues that states have a moral responsibility to resettle climate refugees because climate displacement constitutes a distinct form of moral wrongdoing, which thus entitles refugees to rectification and imbues in states a reciprocal ‘duty to rectify.’ I argue first that climate displacement is a moral problem fundamentally because of its anthropogenicity, and that it is mistaken to conceptualize climate displacement as a moral problem because of its bads—i.e. harm, suffering, and loss. Compensation-based approaches to the rectification of climate displacement in particular make this mistake and run aground of value-incommensurability. Generative rights-based approaches, on the other hand, are often predicated on specious justificatory grounds and may exacerbate political intractability. The more practical approach to rectifying climate displacement is to extend the logic of the UN Refugee Convention to include climate refugees. However, the logic of non-refoulement misses key concerns about malrecognition unique to climate displacement. To address this lacuna, the duty to rectify draws out justificatory concerns about malrecognition consistent with the reasoning of the existing Convention. On the justificatory basis of non-refoulement and the duty to rectify, I argue that any acceptable agreement on the rectification of climate displacement should meet in principle at least the following three conditions: 1) ‘recognitional’ justice for affected people, 2) re- affirmation of the world’s differentiated responsibilities to prevent climate change and prevent as much displacement as possible, and 3) the guarantee of resettlement and the provision of basic resources and opportunities—or essential ‘capabilities’—coupled with the creation of participatory institutions that empower affected people to make claims to the community of states on their own behalf, particularly pertaining to their preferences of resettlement location and in expressing what they need to rebuild decent lives for themselves. Finally, I argue that resettlement responsibilities should be assigned to states according to respective capacity, or ability-to-pay, as a matter of social responsibility. I also suggest capacity-building responsibilities between states as a means of reconciling potential asymmetries that may emerge between the resettlement preferences of climate refugees and the capacities of states to assist.

Keywords: Climate displacement, climate refugees, the good and the right, wrongdoing, duty to rectify, rectification, moral entitlement, responsibility, ability-to-pay principle