On Climate Frontlines, Pacific Islanders Consider Moving

Image: Villagers watch the sunset over a small lagoon near the village of Tangintebu on South Tarawa in the central Pacific island nation of Kiribati May 25, 2013. REUTERS/David Gray



By Alister Doyle


PARIS (Reuters) – On the frontline of climate change, many people in low-lying Pacific islands say they will consider migrating if droughts, floods or rises in sea level worsen, a study showed on Wednesday at United Nations talks.

Even so, very few of the islanders surveyed in Kiribati, Tuvalu and Nauru have the money needed to move, the report by the U.N. University and the European Union said.

“Pacific islanders are facing the brunt of climate change impacts and are increasingly finding themselves with few options,” Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sosene Sopoaga said, commenting on the report.

The first survey of its kind, it said more than 70 percent of households surveyed in Kiribati and Tuvalu and 35 percent of those in Nauru, said family members would be willing to move if the impact of climate change worsened.

It said that 1.3 percent of people in Kiribati, 10 percent of those in Nauru and 15 percent of those in Tuvalu had moved internationally in the period 2005-15. It did not give comparisons with previous decades.

The researchers projected that international migration would increase sharply by 2055 from all three island states. Storms and “king tides” are likely to worsen. Sea levels have risen about 20 centimetres (8 inches) in the past century.

It said only 26 percent of the 6,852 people surveyed in the three nations reckoned they had enough money to migrate – average monthly earnings are just $12 per capita.

Almost 200 nations are meeting in Paris until Dec. 11, trying to work out a deal to limit a rise in temperatures blamed on increasing emissions of greenhouse gases.

Courts in New Zealand and other countries have rejected applications for asylum from islanders who cite a rising sea level as a cause for moving.

They say it cannot qualify as fleeing “persecution” under the United Nations’ 1951 refugee convention. The U.N. refugee agency also opposes adding a category of climate refugees.

Koko Warner of the U.N. University’s Institute for Environment and Security said governments needed new ways to help. “Climate change is one of the really big stressors … Our current institutions do not address that yet,” she said.

Last year, Kiribati bought 6,000 acres of land in Fiji to help safeguard future food supplies and perhaps to become a future home if seas rise, as part of a policy of “migration with dignity”.

(Reporting By Alister Doyle; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Copyright 2015 Thomson Reuters. Click for Restrictions.

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