In October, the UK’s Daily Telegraph reported that Ioane Teitiota, 37, from the Republic of Kiribati has asked a court in New Zealand to officially recognise him and his family as climate change refugees. In so doing, he has become the world’s first climate refugee the paper claims. Mr Teitiota’s claim may or may not be accurate, but the story’s real value is in its near perfect representation of the situation facing the world today.
In his submission to the New Zealand court, Mr Teitiota claimed that Kiribati's extreme high tides have destroyed his crops, contaminated drinking water and forced residents to seek to settle elsewhere on the islands. However, the inhabitable land is already occupied and these refugees have been met with threats and violence from the current land-owners who do not want to share or give away their own land.
There is little doubt that that the climate is indeed changing and weather events becoming more extreme. The most recent Executive Order issued by the President of the United States declared in its first paragraph, “The impacts of climate change…are already affecting communities, natural resources, ecosystems, economies, and public health across the Nation.” And the effects on the US pale in comparison to the effects of a changing climate on the developing world, whose infrastructure and state of development is far less able to cope with the ravages of extreme weather. The appalling devastation caused by Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines is eye-watering, heart rendering proof of this fact.
So the changing climate and increasingly extreme weather are making the continued occupation of certain areas of the developing world less and less viable. At the same time, a world population of more than 7 billion people means that land is an increasingly scarce resource.
It is clear that climate-related migration has only just begun in earnest and the displaced Ioane Teitiota may become emblematic of the issue. Certainly, the climate migration challenge will increase, particularly in the developing world, as a growing population is subjected to increasingly extreme weather. Not only must governments of the world collaborate to pre-empt the inevitable conflicts but they must also focus on the development of more resilient economies and society to support communities in place.
In answering the challenges posed by the extreme weather, The Geneva Association calls for more pooling of risks at the global level, and greater government-private sector collaboration.
We also call on governments to engage businesses to increase societal and economic resilience of countries that will reduce the impact of natural catastrophes. Investment and preparedness now will bring considerable dividends in the future. Conversely, failure to act now will store up greater problems for the future for which the human and economic costs will be far greater. Ministers attending the COP19 talks currently underway in Warsaw should take note.
Category: Climate/natural disasters: Climate change, Disaster risk, Resilience
Location: Republic of Kiribati