A German bishop has said the international community should give official refugee status to people who migrate due to the effects of climate change.

Driving the news

Gebhard Fürst, bishop of Rottenburg-Stuttgart, has come out in favour of a Nansen passport system for climate migrants, to be administered under the auspices of the United Nations.

Nansen passports were passports issued by the League of Nations to stateless persons after World War I.

Nansen passport holders included the artist Marc Chagall, the author Vladimir Nabokov and the photojournalist Robert Capa.

The big picture

In a diocesan press release, Fürst lamented the fact that the two million climate migrants displaced around the world in 2018 are not classified as refugees under the Geneva Convention on refugees and as such cannot be granted special protection in Germany.

According to World Bank figures, climate migrant numbers will increase to more than 140 million by 2050; 85 million from sub-Saharan Africa, 40 million from South Asia and 17 million from Latin America.

“A modern-day Nansen passport would allow the new stateless person to settle in a country where they could hope for a decent life again”, said the bishop.

Fürst criticised the fact that “industrialized nations contribute to climate change to a very considerable extent and show little willingness to change anything”.

The bishop insisted the international community should address the “humanitarian catastrophe of a global magnitude” that is global warming and “provide a home to those whose lands are burned or washed away”.


Vienna cardinal warns of prospect of “millions” of climate refugees

Go deeper

The idea of giving climate migrants special refugee passports first came from German researcher Hans Joachim Schellnhuber on the sidelines of the COP 24 conference last year in Katowice, Poland.

“Global warming doesn’t capture the scale of destruction. Speaking of hothouse Earth is legitimate”, said Schellnhuber, professor of theoretical physics and founder of the Potsdam Institute for Climate Impact Research.

“I’ve worked on this for 30 years and I’ve never been as worried as I am today”, the scientist added.

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PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.