Push for Pacific coalition on climate displacement

The time is right for the establishment of a grand coalition of Pacific leaders to address climate induced migration and displacement, a conference on the issue was told this week.

And the coalition should not only include Pacific island governments but civil societies and the private sector.

Commending island leaders for their efforts on the issue, Pacific Islands Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (PIANGO) executive director Emele Duituturaga told the conference in Funafuti, Tuvalu, that it affects everyone in the Pacific and required a concerted effort by all.

“We, Pacific people are the peoples of the largest ocean of the world. The Pacific Ocean is a vital regulator of climate for the whole world,” she told the conference, which was attended by about 100 people.

“As the result of global warning, the great increases in temperatures have also resulted in large changes in climate throughout the world giving rise to extreme weather conditions - like very strong cyclones, heavy rains with destructive floods, extreme high tides causing heavy coastal erosion and unusually long periods of drought, not to mention melting of the ice glaciers which contributes to sea level rise.

“We Pacific peoples are at the frontline of devastation from climate change and especially here in Tuvalu and Kiribati, you are on the frontline of sea level rise.”

She said it was here where our call for justice and the right to survival lies.

Ms Duituturaga, who posed the question on ‘where is the  justice for those least responsible’ of this human-induced catastrophe at the Commonwealth people’s forum, held alongside the heads of government meeting in London in April,  said civil society also recognise that climate change is one of the most pressing challenges that our planet faces, which impact people’s ability to realise human rights and sustainable development for current and future generations and CSOs would continue to ask the question.

“We take a climate justice and rights based approach. We also affirm that climate justice requires that climate action be consistent with existing human rights agreements, obligations, standards and principles.

She said Pacific islanders bear the greatest brunt of this catastrophe and carry the heaviest burden of the climate problem that “we have not created”.

“The link between climate change and migration has not been talked about much in the Pacific, perhaps an uncomfortable subject, but there are those of us who want to talk about it and that our governments need to consider and accept that climate induced or climate related migration is already taking place,” she added. “Climate induced migration refers to people having to leave as a result of climate impacts. Forced displacement is probably a more clearer way of referring to this challenge.”

Ms Duituturaga said CSOs recognised that climate change is a driver of internal and international displacement.

“Pacific leaders have agreed that climate change is the single most pressing development challenge for our region. The main focus has been on addressing adaptation and mitigation, negotiations at UNFCC COP meetings and Climate finance,” she said.

“However, the issue of climate induced displacement and migration is not recognised, but is already disrupting the lives of Pacific peoples at such speed and scale never before experienced.

“We – PIANGO and civil society is saying, there is an urgent need for government and communities leaders to appreciate the level and depth of understanding of the impacts of climate change particularly relating to displacements and migration.

“As the planet warms hurricanes get more powerful, the percentage of hurricanes that are most powerful (therefore more destructive) is linked to climate change. When hurricanes strike, people are displaced internally. They are forced from their homes and travel to the nearest place of safety. In the aftermath of a disaster, people will move again - often within their country. People who are displaced in this way, are often vulnerable and their rights not respected in their new location.”

She told the conference that during the Easter weekend, this year, Fiji was hit by devastating and damaging floods caused by Cyclone Josie and Cyclone Keni within two weeks, killing four.

 Two years earlier Cyclone Winston, a category five storm recorded as the most destructive to hit Fiji, killed more than 44, destroyed thousands of homes and impacted 30 per cent of the country’s GDP.

This sort of weather, she said, had become a norm for island states.

 “Trauma is still abound and life remains hard for many (in Fiji), thousands of whom have to survive in make do shacks and tents. There are families still living under tarpaulin tents.

“It is an uncomfortable truth that as the planet warms, some places will be impossible to protect from the impacts of climate change.

“For the people who live in these places, safe and legal ways of moving must be created. Unless states and governments become more open to the idea of safe and legal migration, in the face of climate change, many people will be forced to move illegally.

Already, families have been relocated, even communities have to be relocated. It is unthinkable, yet possible, that a whole nation may have to be relocated.”

Ms Duituturaga said historically, education, economic and social factors have been primary reasons to migrate voluntarily. Today, environmental change was largely contributing to the decision to migrate.

“Climate change has significant implications for Pacific island populations, many of whom live in coastal areas and rely on natural resources – both terrestrial and oceans for our livelihoods and well-being. The link between climate and migration is only beginning to gain recognition and there are information gaps in the existing knowledge base leading also to policy gaps, let alone policy intervention.”

Citing an Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP) report, which identified five  “hotspots” in the Pacific that are likely to become source areas for climate change-related migrant - urban areas, urban atolls, non-urban atolls,  coastal, delta and riverine communities and communities prone to drought.

“You may be interested to note that in the report – urban atolls refer to Kwajalein and Majuro in the Marshall Islands; South Tarawa in Kiribati and Funafuti. High population density, related fresh water problems, waste disposal and housing provision. High rates of in-migration, which is likely to be increased by climate change as livelihoods on outer atolls become more difficult to sustain. Accordingly, they need to be given greater priority in adaptation planning, including that related to migration.”

Climate change, she added, is likely to increase the demand for both internal and international migration opportunities.

“Voluntary migration of individuals and communities can be adaptive if it is well managed. Internal migration or international labour migration can enhance the adaptive capacity of the migrant-sending community through the generation of remittances, reduced population pressure on homeland environments, and in the case of circular migration, the transfer of knowledge and skills. Labour migration can also fill human resource gaps in the receiving community. However, unplanned migration can result in unemployed migrants, negative remittances and social problems.

“The planned resettlement of entire communities, either within a country or internationally, may be required in some instances; however, the cultural and social impacts of community relocation may be severe. Climate change forced displacement is highly disruptive to livelihoods, culture and society unless proper, well-planned interventions support people in their effort to adapt to the challenges.”

 While migration is a normal part of life for many Pacific communities, Ms Duituturaga said accepting migration as an adaptive response to climate change is often associated with a threat to sovereignty and cultural identity.

“There are significant information gaps in understanding the impacts of climate change on migration in the Pacific. Particular research needs include: the integration of climate change and migration policy; costs of climate change related migration on sending and receiving communities; gendered implications of voluntary and forced climate change-related migration; and the role of remittances in adaptive capacity

“Migration-related adaptation policy options have yet to be comprehensively addressed by most Pacific governments (Petz, 2013). This is primarily because the issue is both culturally and politically sensitive, with many potential costs (Lazrus, 2009; Mortreux and Barnett, 2011; Smith, 2013). It is also because (a) there is a lack of data on the scale and patterns of possible climate change-related migration (or on environmental migration more broadly), and (b) migration-related adaptation policy is a cross-cutting issue requiring a whole-of-government response that can be difficult to garner (Boncour and Burson, 2010; Burkett, 2011).

“Furthermore, very few Pacific island Governments refer to migration in the context of adaptation in their joint national action plans or national adaptation programmes of action.”

While Pacific Island Forum countries such as Fiji and New Zealand have welcomed climate change migrants, she added there was no policy framework in place for the incoming migrants and the hosting communities and this has major and serious implications for the region as a whole.

PIANGO has made a submission through the Framework for Pacific Regionalism process to PIF Leaders - recommending that Pacific Islands Forum leaders adopt a regional policy framework on climate induced displacement and migration to guide national policies and actions.

“We consider that, a regional policy framework on climate-induced displacement and migration is urgently proposed and ought to be one that also draws on Pacific traditional, time-tested indigenous leadership. This regional policy will be a new initiative and hence, must be advocated at the global level by Pacific Leaders for its inclusion in the Global Compact for Safe, orderly and regular migration which will be adopted by the UN in December of this year,” she said.

“It is critical, that the Pacific Leaders retain oversight over this regional policy given the traditional connections and socio-economic ties between the peoples in the region and moreso, the unfamiliar and untested consequence of climate-induced displacement and migration in recent times.”


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