The creation of special “climate refugee” visas for Pacific Islanders forced from their homes by rising sea levels were proposed by New Zealand, the country’s new climate change minister has revealed, as the UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, concluded.
Image by UMSL
As it stands, there aren’t very many people who have been displaced from the Pacific Islands as the result of climate change, but as sea levels continue rising, the coming decades are very likely to see many islands depopulated completely as saltwater intrusion renders them essentially uninhabitable (no way to grow food, no freshwater, etc.).
Speaking about the need to confront this issue before impacts begin, James Shaw, the climate minister of New Zealand and also leader of the country’s Green Party, stated: “We want to get ahead of this before it turns into a real problem … we want to start a dialogue with the Pacific Island countries about this notion of migrating with dignity, if things get to that point.”
Things absolutely are going to get to that point, and far beyond it as well.
“One of the options is a special humanitarian visa to allow people who are forced to migrate because of climate change,” he continued, during a phone interview with Reuters on the sidelines of the UN climate talks in Bonn.
“The reason why we were throwing around an idea of a visa is because people who have been displaced by environmental conditions like rising seas and climate change aren’t counted under the UN Convention on Refugees.”
Reuters adds context: “The 1951 UN Refugee Convention grants refugee status to those fleeing persecution, wars, and conflicts, but does not include climate change as a reason to seek asylum.
“Neighboring Australia said it would invest 300 million Australian dollars ($226 million) over four years to help Pacific Islands cope with climate change, but was not planning to implement a similar climate migration scheme.”
Well, the best way to help Pacific Islanders “cope” with anthropogenic climate change would of course be to stop throwing more fuel on the fire, so to speak — which is something that Australia seems as unwilling to do in practice as the US, Germany, India, Brazil, or China are. Once the government of Australia begins taking serious actions to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, I’ll start taking its official position on climate refugees more seriously.
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