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International legal challenges posed by climate change NLS3

  • School: Nottingham Law School
  • Study mode(s): Full-time / Part-time
  • Starting: 2022
  • Funding: UK student / EU student (non-UK) / International student (non-EU) / Fully-funded


NTU's Fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme 2022

Project ID: NLS3

The Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has recently reported that global warming is highly likely to reach 1.5°C between 2030 and 2052 (from pre-industrial levels) if it continues to increase at the current rate. The Panel goes on to indicate both cumulative and exponential environmental consequences, projected to impact dramatically on weather systems and natural ecosystems. UN agencies estimate that there could be between 25 million and 1 billion environmentally-forced migrations by 2050. International actors now recognise that external migration is one of a number of legitimate adaptive responses yet there is no agreement on how to define and conceptualise this type of migration.

The international definition of a ‘refugee’ (Article 1A of the Refugee Convention, 1951) does not easily apply to those fleeing the consequences of climate change. The International Organization for Migration has put forward an alternative working definition of an ‘environmental migrant’ but the Council of Europe’s 2019 resolution 2307 prefers the term ‘climate refugee’. The much needed international response may be undermined by such conceptual uncertainty.

The climate change emergency is now affecting and challenging the existing frameworks of several branches of public international law, such as refugee law, human rights law, state responsibility (alongside growing climate change-related litigation before domestic courts), environmental law, the law of the sea, and even international criminal law. Thus, a panel of international legal experts convened by the Stop Ecocide Foundation has released a definition of a proposed new international crime of Ecocide for inclusion within the framework of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.

We are seeking innovative proposals grounded in a hybrid legal framework that sits at the intersection of international humanitarian law, human rights law, environmental law and criminal justice. The successful application will identify the international legal challenges posed by climate change and will advance legal mechanisms to redress environmental damage, as well as human loss of abode and livelihoods.

Indicative content may include:

  • the evolution of international law to take account of the climate crisis
  • the capacity and sufficiency of existing legal orders, instruments and mechanisms to address the environmental and human consequences of the climate crisis
  • the impact on the dialectic between international and domestic legal orders
  • consideration of a new regulatory framework grounded in international and regional obligations, including existing treaties, soft-law and inter-governmental initiatives
  • this project may lend itself to a comparative approach.

School strategic research priority

This project aligns with the Centre for Rights and Justice existing strengths in international and environmental law and activities of the MERGeR Research Group. It also sustains cross-disciplinary activity across the Sustainable Futures research theme.

Entry qualifications

For the eligibility criteria, visit our studentship application page.

How to apply

For guidance and to make an application, please visit our studentship application page. The application deadline is Friday 14 January 2022.

Fees and funding

This is part of NTU's 2022 fully-funded PhD Studentship Scheme.

Guidance and support

Download our full applicant guidance notes for more information.

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