It's a term usually applied to people in low-lying tiny Pacific nations, or other parts of the developing world, who are being forced -- or will soon be forced -- to abandon their countries as increasingly frequent high tides inundate land, or ruin fresh water supplies.
But there are climate refugees in the developed world too, especially in America, where residents of at least three low-lying regions are already trying to pack up and ship out.
U.S. President Donald Trump has called climate change a "hoax" in at least six separate tweets over the years. Try telling that to people whose homes are already on the verge of being uninhabitable.
A really interesting episode of SBS Dateline to air Tuesday night documents the lives of Americans in Alaska, on Florida's Atlantic Coast, and on to Louisiana's Gulf coast. It shows why they're leaving their homes forever -- before it's too late.
One of these climate refugees is the last guy you'd expect. His name is Dan Kipnis and he's a retired fishing captain who is selling his home in America's eighth-largest city of Miami.
Unlike most climate refugees, Kipnis appears relatively well off.
"It hurts me to leave here," he told reporter Jeanette Francis. "I built everything here -- to stay here, to live out my life here, the next 20 years until I die, and I'm not going to be able to do it."
Kipnis, who says his wealthy neighbours are all "in denial", believes the city of six million people is slowly going under, a theory given serious credence by University of Miami professor Harold Wanless, who recently wrote:
"It is amazing for me to see the very aggressive building boom underway in south Florida; on the beaches and barrier islands, throughout downtown and in the low western areas bordering the Everglades. They are building like there is no tomorrow. Unfortunately, they are right."
While Kipnis is making what you might call a lifestyle decision based on future predictions, others Americans are moving as a matter of immediate urgency.
We meet a family on Louisiana's tiny Isle de Jean Charles, which has shrunk from 22,000 acres to just a few hundred acres due to erosion and inundation.
And we meet a family in Kivalina, Alaska, way up above the Arctic Circle, where the entire village of nearly 400 people needs to be relocated for a number of reasons -- including the sad fact that the local Inupiat people are unable to hunt seals because dwindling ice means their numbers have dropped in the area.
It's pretty thought-provoking stuff, and it's evidence that the effects of climate change are about the necessities of life -- i.e. food and housing. It's also a strong reminder that rising waters really don't care what politicians think about climate science.
America's First Climate Change Refugees airs on Dateline on Tuesday night at 9:30pm on SBS.Suggest a correction