ANALYSIS: Pacific Climate Change And Migration Project Addresses Climate Induced Migration

For the Pacific’s low-lying atoll nations like Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, the sea is becoming an unwelcoming intruder, eroding the shoreline and infiltrating soils, turning wells brackish and
29 Oct 2015 10:30
ANALYSIS: Pacific Climate Change And Migration Project Addresses Climate Induced Migration
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon meets people of Kiribati on a visit to the atoll nation in 2011.

For the Pacific’s low-lying atoll nations like Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall Islands, the sea is becoming an unwelcoming intruder, eroding the shoreline and infiltrating soils, turning wells brackish and killing crops and trees. Rising sea levels have made every high tide a dangerous experience.

Regular floods wash through villages causing damage to houses and poisoning drinking water.

Working with Pacific island governments like Tuvalu and Kiribati, who are at the frontline of climate change actions, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UNESCAP) Pacific Office is implementing the European Union funded Pacific Climate Change and Migration (PCCM) project, in partnership with the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and the UNDP.

The PCCM project is working to strengthen Pacific island countries’ ability to address the impacts of climate change on migration and to strengthen national capacity in Nauru, Tuvalu and Kiribati to use labour migration as a way to adapt to the impacts of climate change.

This month, the PCCM project partnered with the Kiribati government and the Prince Albert Foundation in a high-level dialogue on climate induced migration, which was held in Tarawa, Kiribati from October 9 to 10.

Addressing leaders and development partners, Prince Albert II of Monaco said: “It is currently estimated that the number of people who have been forced to leave their homes for climate-related reasons is three times higher than those who have had to do so due to war or political conflict.

“And yet these figures do not include the victims of sudden disaster, nor those who have to face ever-increasing daily dangers such as rising water levels and desertification.

“Millions of our fellow human beings are forced to abandon their land and property, their history and belongings, to flee from a tragedy for which they are not responsible. Millions of victims, majority of whom live in Asia or Oceania, in countries with a low carbon economy, in these countries which have contributed only slightly to the disruption of which they are the victims.

“Because the paradox of global warming is that it hits those who are not responsible first. Those who consume less, who travel less, who are less developed and who have burnt less fuel, those who have generated the least amount of greenhouse gases,” Prince Albert II said.

Kiribati President, Anote Tong reiterated: “Whatever we do, we’ll never be able to accommodate the current level of population, let alone any increase in population and we have to accept that reality. In doing so, we have to understand that some of our people will have to be relocated.

“We are providing options for those that want to migrate now as a matter of choice, to do so as worthwhile citizens. We are providing training, we want to provide up-skilling so that they can apply to different countries to seek migration status on merit.

“The Pacific Climate Change and Migration project has recently launched a powerful documentary on climate induced migration in the Pacific.

“The Land Beyond the Horizon” captures the voices of Pacific leaders who have been at the forefront of climate change actions such as president Anote Tong and Tuvalu’s prime minister Enele Sopoaga.

“The film also tell the stories of Pacific islanders whose lands and livelihoods are threatened by climate change, as well as those who have had to relocate to other countries and also discusses climate change impacts on peoples’ lives, cultures, languages and traditions.

Speaking in the film, Tuvalu’s prime minister Sopoaga said: “All options must be on the table and of course, the option of migration must not be closed off to my people.

“But this is not an excuse for us not to continue to seek proper global actions by the world community. An agreement in Paris (at COP21) should address both mitigation and adaptation.

“We may be running away and that’s okay. We can run to Australia, New Zealand – there are a few options – but that’s not stopping climate change.

“The danger is that wherever you may be, you may not be considered top priority to those countries and that’s a danger that I don’t want my people to face.

They must be properly educated, trained and empowered so that they can make the right decisions and be aware of the restrictions they might be facing in foreign countries,” Prime Minister Sopoaga emphasised.

Sharing his story, Tuvaluan Manu Malo Tuinanumea, who grew up in Kioa, in northern Fiji said: “Tuvaluans are very attached to our culture and tradition and we think that by staying back in Tuvalu, we will maintain our tradition. But we Vaitupuans in Kioa are Fiji citizens. Culture, tradition, all these can be practised in a foreign land like Fiji.

“We can still maintain our cultures but the future of generations of Tuvaluans depends on our decisions now.”

Mary Robinson, UN Special Envoy on Climate Change,who visited Fiji last September to attend the Pacific Islands Development Forum meeting explained: “It’s the most vulnerable and the poorest that suffer the most and there is a very strong gender dimension to all climate action and inaction.

“The fact that women find it more difficult, have problems that are different to the problems that men face. We have to recognise that there is a gender dimension which has to be brought out.”

European Union Ambassador for the Pacific Andrew Jacobs has emphasised: “The phenomenon of migration is going to become more and more significant in the Pacific. The reason that the European Union is supporting a programme like the Pacific Climate Change and Migration project is to help prepare our partner governments for migration.

“To be able to manage migration in a way that really benefits those who are going to be leaving their countries – either temporarily or on a permanent basis – and to help those countries who are going to be receiving the migrants to maximise opportunities that the additional labour, expertise and experience can offer.”

Highlighting the work of the project, Prime Minister Sopoaga said: “I think that this project on migration is working well in helping to provide data, information, options that are extremely important. We are very grateful that ESCAP, with the help of the European Union, is helping our governments in this way. Certainly, the way I see it, it could be a very important link to co-ordinate other projects in response to climate change.”

Discussing the importance of formulating relevant policies in the context of the Pacific’s cultural realities Iosefa Maiava, Head of the UNESCAP Pacific Office said: “It’s very important that we understand cultural realities on which we can formulate policies that are relevant.

“The challenge for a project such as this looks at changing the way people behave and the way people relate to each other in order for them to cope with climate change.

“We are in a position to be the first generation to be able to solve the problems of poverty and inequality but probably the last generation to do anything about climate change. What this means is that time is running out,” he said.

UN Resident Co-ordinator, Osnat Lubrani said: “Climate change – an issue all too familiar to Pacific nations – has now also been accorded the priority it deserves (in the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals).

“The United Nations will be partnering alongside Pacific governments and communities as we work towards these new and critical goals.”

As the UN celebrates its 70th anniversary and as the world approaches the crucial UNFCCC COP 21 climate conference in Paris this December, Pacific island countries are hopeful that a meaningful agreement will be adopted to finally lay the foundation for urgent global action on climate change.

“A legally binding agreement is long overdue. We’re on the frontline. No matter whether a legally binding agreement comes into place – or not at all – Kiribati as a country, will be under water by the end of the century.

“We are the example of why a legally binding agreement is so important. We are the canaries in the coal mine,” President Tong said.



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