Ex-Australian P.M. suggest climate change solution

Former Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has suggested Australia offer citizenship to the peoples of low lying coral atolls, soon to lose their lands to rising seas, in exchange for control over their fisheries and exclusive economic zones.

But Tuvalu’s Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga hit back, saying Australia should not consider any “imperial thinking” as a solution to the impending climate change crisis.

Around the Pacific, some solutions for the inevitable relocation of entire nations are already happening, but there is not yet consensus on the best legal answer to the question of sovereignty without land.

Samoan climate change policy researcher, Lagipoiva Cherelle Jackson, said people who are forced to move away from their homes do not suddenly lose their identities as Pacific Islanders.

“Beyond the rights to biodiversity and fishing resources within the national jurisdiction of these countries, is the recognition that we do have identities as Pacific Islanders; as Tuvaluans, as Marshallese, as people of Pacific Islands,” she said.

“So it’s not just a matter of survival, of moving to another country, but maintaining the integrity of yourself as a person of particular country, such as Tuvalu.”

She said the case of the Carteret Islands gradual migration to Bougainville, an autonomous region of Papua New Guinea is one example of how Pacific Islanders are already making the exodus to higher ground.

The Carteret Islands were predicted to be the first islands to be fully submerged because of climate change and rising sea levels, by 2015. They are not yet gone, but its Tuluun people are relocation slowly but surely to the autonomous region of Bougainville in Papua New Guinea.

ABC photographer Darren James visited the Carteret Islands and documented how several meters of fertile soil have been lost to the sea, and how the dying coral reefs mean fishing is a difficult task today.

“Decades ago, fishing for a large family for a day or so involved one or two people at a beach nearby,” Mr James writes.

“But now it requires two or three men with a boat, fuel, and six to eight hours at a distant reef to catch the same amount.”

In 2017, The Bougainville News reported that a voluntary relocation program had successfully moved ten families, after a decade of operations.

“After unsuccessfully applying for land through official channels, [director Ursula Rakova] was given four different locations by the Catholic Church in 2007, and relocation to the first of the abandoned plantation sites started that year.”

Eventually, the entire population of approximately 200 people will need to relocate, most likely to Bougainville.

In 2017, Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said Kiribati and Tuvaluans “will not be refugees” and can expect safe haven in Fiji.

Back in 2014, Kiribati’s Government actually bought 20 square kilometers of land on a Fijian island from the Church of England, the Natoavatu Estate for US$8.77 million, for the eventual relocation of its people but also as a possible food production and financial investment for the people.

But that purchase is not without its complications. DevPolicy’s James Ellsmoor and Zachary Rosen reported in 2016 that villagers living in the land facing food security issues could complicate any relocation for more people.

Fiji itself has invested US$500,000 in developing a legal framework on climate refugee relocation. 

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