The Inconvenient Neighbours


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This morning, in Court 10 at the High Court in Auckland, the Hon. Justice Priestley will hear argument in the case of a citizen of Kiribati versus the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, seeking leave to appeal an Immigration and Protection Tribunal Decision that he and his family should be sent back to Kiribati. Not that you’d know that, if you were following the New Zealand media. The most recent coverage of this case is at the Wall Street Journal, a US paper not noted for its coverage of climate issues — but that’s what this case is all about. The appellant is arguing that he should be allowed to stay in New Zealand and not return to his home island because it is disappearing beneath the rising seas. He is a climate refugee, he claims, and so seeks refugee status.

It seems unlikely that the man’s case will succeed, according to immigration law experts consulted by the Associated Press, but the idea — that climate refugees are knocking at New Zealand’s door — is one whose time has come. A couple of weeks ago, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the first part of its 5th Report (summary for policy makers here, full report draft here), and projected that without action to reduce emissions sea level could rise by almost a metre by the end of this century — and carry on rising thereafter. The low-lying islands of the Pacific are under pressure already, as king tides wash into their townships and sea water infiltrates their water supplies, and long before the end of the century thousands of families are going to be displaced as their homes become unliveable.

Migration — whether forced or economic — is already a major issue around the world. Whether it’s boat loads of people heading to Australia or Europe, we are already experiencing the first phase of what will become a tidal wave as climate change bites. Rising seas and storm surges threaten to drive hundreds of millions of people in the low-lying river deltas of Southeast Asia off their land. National borders mean little when simple survival is your only goal. Many more Pacific island communities will be under threat and knocking at our door. Yet the New Zealand government believes that its watered down and ineffective emissions trading scheme is a credible response to the horrendous consequences of unchecked warming. It seems keen to ignore the issue as much as possible — to the extent that no government minister could spare the time to talk to Dr Thomas Stocker, joint chairman of the IPCC’s working group one report when he visited NZ last week.

The IPCC’s message, and that of the Kiribati refugee are all too clear. Unless we take urgent steps to cut emissions, and start planning for a world changed by the warming and take account of the geopolitical impacts of certainties like sea level rise, we will face tough times. Action now will make the future for everyone less bad. That’s the best we can do, and the least we can do if we want to do more than pay lip service to humanitarian principles.

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  1. Disappearing Heaven

    Despite an impending crisis unmatched in human history and the weighty matters up for discussion The look of sheer uninhibited delight on John Key’s face as he steps ashore on the Marshall Islands for the first time.
    Reflected on John Key’s face is the spontaneous joyous delight that most Westerners feel when they step onto the tropical beach of the Island Nations fresh from their temperate winter.

    John Key is stepping ashore on the Marshall Islands capital for the historic forty fourth Pacific Islands forum. The lead topic for discussion, climate change.

    Despite the weighty matters he is about to discuss at this conference, John Key’s joyful response on stepping ashore is unbidden and automatic.

    But behind the smiles, that this heaven is about to be destroyed, is the grim reality.

    P.S. Despite all the nice words John Key spouts at this conference, within in weeks of signing the Majuro Declaration in which John Key promised that New Zealand will make efforts to cut our Green House gas emissions. In a dirty act of betrayal, John Key’s government gives $155 million in loans and another $25 million gift to Solid energy to keep on mining coal, the worlds most dangerous and single biggest source of carbon pollution.

    • “Reflected on John Key’s face is the spontaneous joyous delight that most Westerners feel when they step onto the tropical beach of the Island Nations fresh from their temperate winter.”

      Yes, sadly that is one side of John Key, he tends to behave like a little, over-excited boy in a toy shop. That happened when he visited the Marshall Islands, it happened when he visited the Royals, it happens when he meets foreign dignitaries and so forth.

      It is one aspect of his character that makes him appeal to the powerful in the wider world, be they banking chiefs, big business leaders, top politicians and leaders from the big powers.

      They just love such a desperate greaser, who is at the same time happy to make deals to advance the interests of his government, himself and his business lobbyists back home.

      A smart boy in a toy shop, over excited, superficial, yet already out to get mum convinced that he deserves that shiny toy on the shelf, and he will do all to get it.

  2. This is ONE of THE ISSUES that should be front page stuff in the papers and journals, and that should be taken more damned seriously by the media and the politically involved, certainly politicians holding office, or aspiring to do so.

    It is a hot topic in my eyes, and it deserves major attention, and the reasons for it need to be taken seriously and must be discussed incessantly.

    Climate change is real, and the most recent findings by the International Panel on Climate Change prove that it is most certainly largely also due to human influence on the whole environment.

    This will become the topic of the century ahead, indeed, and we will be confronted with massive pressures on populations in various spots across the globe, which only add to existing pressures that are there due to economic reasons, and due to resulting poverty that drives many to leave their poor and destitute countries for a better, safer life.

    But I have a very concerned view on all this. We will not solve this problem by opening the doors and shorelines to massive streams of populations from just anywhere, as that will inevitably lead to the destruction of the local environment and economy. You cannot serve as a Noah’s Arch and overload the boat.

    It needs a balanced approach and can only be solved by urgent international action. Besides of helping poorer countries to develop more sustainable economies and to assist them to stop population growth, agreements are needed to address climate change and to also include climate caused migration in refugee policy agreements.

    The start needs to made though by addressing the causes, and that affects us ALL! The average person out there, behaving as if this will not affect her or him, and continuing to drive their cars every day, as if that is their right to private freedom to pollute. To continue to waste resources, including energy, to live unsustainably, and to waste, waste and waste, that is irresponsible and must be discouraged and stopped.

    So urgent action needs to be taken in every country and society, especially the “developed” countries, using excessive amounts of fossil fuel energy and the likes, and that includes New Zealand. In the meantime our first responsibility is to raise the issues of Pacific climate change refugees, and to offer fair and reasonable assistance within our means.

  3. Climate refugees from our own neighbourhood should be welcome and we should be doing more to reveal the truths of atrocities in the world that creates refugees from violence and injustice.

  4. NZ is an island. We may be forced to emigrate elsewhere too as our islands succumb to the seas. Where will we go? Don’t think we won’t be affected, as many do.
    A metre by the end of this century – I believe it will be far larger than that given the state of the polar caps already.
    Can you imagine the Govt’s outrage should this family win their case?

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