Climate Change and Immigration – the time is now

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.

5 Comments Posted

  1. Other countries might be more prepared to assist us against mobs of refugees from abroad if we are already being seen to be doing our bit. Supporting our neighbours such as Kiribati by providing them with (solar powered) desalination equipment and other appropriate assistance would help win friends.


  2. Well… our only advantages are that we’re a bit harder to get to than most places… and we aren’t YET overpopulated, except for Auckland which is stuffed.

    This is in many ways the reason why I’ve insisted that we need an actual Navy, and an actual defence policy, rather than simply some patrol boats. It is not JUST our country but also our fisheries that want protection… the planet is just starting to punish the most at-risk.

    That said, we might do well to establish who we are taking in and who has to find some other option well before the crunch comes. It isn’t going to be pretty. Lifeboat ethics never ever are.

    For the most part I do not agree that climate change will actually kill us all. Our civilization is however, much more fragile than it has ever been. We rely on computers and communications gear we have NO ability to produce. That is a huge risk for us. We have outsourced almost every facet of our manufacturing, and that is another.

  3. +1 dbuckley

    I think, dare I say it, a fairly dispassionate and nationalisic rather than humanistic approach needs to be taken.

    I know this will be deeply unpopular within the GP – I myself am quite uncomfortable with by own logic – but NZ, in the face of what is likely to be a global catastrophe, must (literally) shore up its own position before seeking to help others.

    This will mean living with the distasteful reality of turning people away, including using deadly force to do so.

    The best I beleive we can hope for is to cut a deal with a major power, who sees advantage in protecting NZ for their own national interest – be that as source of food, land, potable water – and accepting that we will be a vasssal state in the not too distant future.

  4. Whilst there is arguably a need for future planning as a consequence of rising sea levels, there is a potentially far more urgent situation that is apparently being ignored, namely, the increasing and spreading radio-active contamination of the Pacific waters from Fukushima, Japan. This could make seafood such a health hazard that island populations could no longer depend on this source of protein.

  5. This blog post actually raises a really interesting question.

    Jan quotes:

    Hundreds of millions or even billions of people could be forced to move from where they lived

    So the question is, is New Zealand expected to accept all of these “millions or even billions” of climatic refugees?

    If not, how many should we expect to accept?

    Given the climate change will (assuming the tall foreheads are right, and lets not debate that one again) end up killing us all, should we even accept any of these climatic refugees? Should we (collectively) just accept that this is the beginning of the end, and yes, as it is the end, people really are going to start dying, and before long, lots of them? The Plan may already exist, and the refusal of entry to this chap may just be the first visible sign of its implementation.

Comments are closed.