Right to education - climate change displacements

How climate change and displacement affect the right to education

According to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, in 2018, 17.2 million people were internally displaced because of natural disasters. In 2020, the number of people displaced due to natural disasters and extreme weather events jumped to 30.7 million. The catastrophic effects of climate change are no longer isolated emergencies but have become the new global norm. People displaced by the effects of climate change face significant vulnerabilities with regard to accessing education: saturated school capacity, destroyed infrastructure, linguistic barriers, exacerbated poverty and dropout, difficulties having past qualifications recognized, discrimination, and more.

Right to education - new displacements in 2019

Although there is ample research on climate change education; education for sustainable development; migratory rights for displaced persons; and refugee inclusion, there is little on the relationship between climate displacement and the right to education.

Climate-displaced people face similar barriers to education as do refugees. Yet, unlike refugees, they have no specific right under international law to residency and the explicit right to education. Whether displaced or trapped by extreme climatic events their needs are highly visible but in national and international policy they remain an invisible category.

A UNESCO project investigating the impacts of climate displacement on the right to education globally includes a Policy Papercountry studies in four regions around the globe and the publication global policy recommendations for all Member States with practical examples/good practices for their implementation. The following trends are emerging in all regions across the globe shedding light on the real barriers to education posed by climate change:

  • Climate directly destroys schools and learning materials 
  • Using schools as emergency shelters prevents the continuation of education 
  • As climate destroys livelihoods, much of economic migration is actually climate-driven displacement 
  • As climate disasters lead to more poverty, this leads to even more barriers to education 
right to education - climate change graph

A comparative approach

  • Displacement patterns:
    • Asia and the Pacific: circular displacement – moving during climatic seasons
    • East Africa: signing up in refugee camps due to droughts and floods
    • Caribbean: temporary displacement following hurricanes and storms
  • Barriers to education for climate displaced persons:

Because displacement patterns are different among the regions, as well as country characteristics, so are the barriers to education amidst climate displacement. For example:

  • Caribbean islands: destruction of schooling infrastructure
  • Asia and the Pacific: barriers to registration and language barriers when displaced to other provinces
  • Climate-driven livelihood losses present a major barrier for educational enrollment in East Africa: climate- driven livelihood losses and subsequent poverty preventing enrollment
  • Southeast Europe: persons displaced during the Balkan wars at risk of secondary, climate displacement and schooling interruption.

Working together for climate displaced persons today’

Climate-displaced persons cannot remain invisible. Let's work together to ensure their right to education is fulfilled.

right to education - climate change displacement - graph
The impacts of climate change and displacement on the right to education: webinar report
The impact of climate displacement on the right to education