This week the application of a Kiribati man for refugee status because of climate change was denied by the Immigration and Protection Tribunal stating that, “the sad reality is the effects of environmental degradation on his standard of living and safety are, by his own admission, faced by the population generally.”
The man is arguing that there is no land available anywhere in Kiribati where his family could relocate and be safe. His wife stated her concern for the health and wellbeing of their family if they return to Kiribati as water is contaminated by salt and crops are dying. She is worried that her children could be drowned in a tidal event or storm surge. While the Kiribati government is buying land in Fiji to grow crops and is building seawalls, it cannot stop sea-level-rise.
The Immigration Protection Tribunal says while the man’s claims are credible, they do not meet the threshold required. The Kiribati man will appeal to the High Court.
This week the Guardian reported a warning from former World Bank chief economist and author of the 2006 term review on the economics of climate change, that scientific projections and economic predictions were underestimating the risks of climate change.
“Temperature rises of 3C or 4C above pre-industrial levels by 2100 would put humans ‘way outside’ the conditions in which civilisation developed, and could cause major disruptions that would damage growth.
“Hundreds of millions or even billions of people could be forced to move from where they lived, causing conflict, there could be large-scale destruction of infrastructure and important services provided by nature could collapse, he warned.”
Earlier this year Kennedy Graham asked the Prime Minister whether this Government would commit to accepting citizens of Pacific Island countries displaced by sea level rise as a result of climate change.
The response was “No, not at this time, but, as I said in the answer to the first question, it is my expectation that Governments will continue to work closely with the potentially affected countries and would look very sympathetically on their position should the need for such an approach arise.”
The case before the IPT is undoubtedly just the first. New Zealand needs to urgently start developing a plan.