The role of ‘new’ subjects of internacional law at the global climate refugees crisis: the situation of Central Americans fleing to the Unites States

Forced Migration, Territorialization, Community and Social Belonging

by Valéria Emília De Aquino and Marina Rodrigues Garcez

Climate change can be considered one of the most serious global threats, due to the fact that the consequences brought by it are often irreversible, causing not only environmental damage, but also social and economic crisis, widening the gap between rich and poor countries. In addition to  increasing inequalities between the nations, it can lead to a social problem -or crisis- known as climate refuge. Currently, there is no international protection for people displaced by natural disasters or other phenomenons related to the climate. There is also no consensus over whether the term “refugee” can be used, since individuals (migrants) affected by climate change do not fit into the concept established by the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951). Nevertheless, climate change can be considered as another reason that results in people leaving their home countries. Therefore, one of the specific objectives to be addressed in this research is the concept and delimitations of climate refugees, which is directly related to climate change. Furthermore, International Law is no longer guided by the notion of sovereignty, but by the protection of human rights, taking into account the existence of a kaleidoscopic and plural world, which allows the active participation of ‘new’ subjects of International Law. This paper has the goal of discussing the role of climate refugees within the scope of International Law, using the current flow of migrants fleeing Central American countries such as Guatemala, Nicaragua and Honduras as an example of the latent need to address this ‘new’ subject under International Refugee Law. The adjective ‘new’ does not refer to the fact that these subjects have just emerged recently -as an example, the International Court of Justice has already issued an advisory opinion on the responsibility of the International Organizations-, but on the contrary, this concept must be understood under the change of International Law, to a more inclusive law, guided by cooperation, exercised by multilateral diplomacy. The role of the new subjects of International Law goes beyond the creation of non-legally binding documents -or soft law, in which multilateral environmental agreements are included-, leaving the legal sphere and starting to exert political and economic pressure over the nations, which often, even in the absence of sanctions, feel compelled to comply with the provisions of this type. In the case of Central Americans, they are being barred from entering U.S. territories even under President Biden’s alleged more immigrant-friendly agenda. Climate refugees are not placed under the same priority group as those requesting political refuge, even though the effect of situations like Hurricane Eta, for example, have direct political, economic and humanitarian impact on the lives of the individuals. Therefore, the hypothesis of this research is that all the subjects of International Law shall -through global environmental governance- cooperate to protect common interests, such as the protection of human rights and the environment. Only by protecting and strengthening these rights will it be possible to overcome the environmental and social crisis that is plaguing the whole world. 

Keywords: Environmental Crisis. Subjects of International Law. Climate change. Climate refugees. Central America. United States.


Valéria Emília de Aquino

PhD student in Human Rights at Federal University of Goiás, Master in Law (Fundamental Rights and Sustainability) by Law College of Federal University of Uberlândia (Universidade Federal de Uberlândia).  E-mail:

Marina Rodrigues Garcez

Master’s degree student in Human Rights at Federal University of Goiás. E-mail: