Migration on agenda at climate change conference

Human migration is expected to be one of the greatest consequences of climate change. 

This is according to the “Migration and Human Rights in the wake of Climate Change” report.

The 50-page report on the policy perspective over the Pacific was released yesterday at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of the Parties (C.O.P. 23) held in Bonn, Germany. 

Migration can wither, be  it  voluntary or forced, short or long-term, within and across borders when it is driven by climate change.

“This is especially true in the case of the Pacific Islands, a region that is already suffering loss and damage from climate change and in which migration – traditionally regarded as a ‘way of life’ – is becoming an urgent need for many people because island environments become less able to support the communities that depend on them. 

“Addressing climate change can no longer be postponed. 

“The international community has taken important steps to address this and the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (U.N.F.C.C.C.) Paris Agreement on Climate Change, signed by 195 countries at the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, is clear evidence of the existing awareness of the threats posed by global warming. 

“With the strongest references to human rights of any international treaty so far, the Paris Agreement goes a step further in linking the international response to climate change to migration and the need to ensure the protection of people’s rights. 

“Indeed, there is an increasing awareness that all efforts taken to tackle both the direct and indirect consequences of climate change can only be maximized if they are adopted within the context of a comprehensive human rights approach. 

“In the Pacific, regional leaders have been prominent in voicing concerns about the impact natural hazards and changes in climate are having on their Small Island Developing States (S.I.D.S.),” says the report. 

Twelve of the 14 Pacific Island Forum member states were among the first countries to submit their ratifications. 

Director-General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme, Leota Kosi Latu, is quoted in the report and was sending congratulatory remarks and commended member countries for their leadership in not only signing but also taking that extra crucial step to ratify the agreement, helping to ensure it will come into force. 

The report says there are legal constraints that might challenge the implementation of international climate law in the region. 

“The Pacific Islands have two existing systems of law: the national or state law, which covers the executive or legislative level, and the traditional, customary law of clans, families or tribes, referred to as the Kastom (custom) law, governing local community law.” 

According to the report, despite the early ratification of the agreement by all of the island states, application on the ground is proving challenging. 

Dr. Cosmin Corendea, Senior Legal Expert at U.N.U.-E.H.S. and author of the report during the launching pointed out that they are seeing in our research that the legal adaptation at the state level. 

“How people make their migration decision and how host communities welcome newcomers largely depends on their community’s value system which is deeply rooted in the local kastom law.  

“We are seeing in our research that the legal adaptation at the state level does not necessarily have a strong impact at the community level, where the traditional beliefs and values are rooted in the kastom law, which shapes village life.

“While migration has always been a way of life in the Pacific, a new environmental reality is making migration no longer just an option, but increasingly a necessity. 

“In Pacific Island countries, communities are uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. 

“People who rely on local resources to provide for their food and housing requirements are faced with the impacts that threaten their livelihoods, including sea level rise, coral bleaching, irregular rainfall and more intense cyclones.” 

Dr. Wesley Morgan, Senior International Relations Expert at the University of the South Pacific, said island communities have deep connections with their land and oceans, and relocation is generally considered an option of last resort. 

“Nonetheless, for some communities, the only way to adapt to climate change is to move. It is important that both national and regional policy frameworks are established that take into account local realities, and allow people to relocate in a way that respects their human rights, and acknowledges their essential human dignity. 

The report says climate-related environmental hazards impact the majority of households in the Pacific. 

“Over the period of 2005 to 2015, more than 90 per cent of households in Kiribati and Tuvalu and three-quarters of households in Nauru, were affected by climate related hazards. 

“Most frequently, these hazards were flooding, saltwater intrusion, storms and changes in rainfall.

“Over the same period, environmental stress was cited as a key factor in the movement of people: In Kiribati, survey respondents said that 14 percent of all recorded movements were related to the environment, while in Tuvalu the figure was nine per cent. 

“Without the option of moving internationally, migrating populations are increasingly assembling in the urban centers of South Tarawa in Kiribati and Funafuti in Tuvalu respectively,” says the report. 

Dr. Robert Oakes, Senior Migration Exert at U.N.U.-E.H.S. concluded the launching and stated that people in the Pacific will migrate in increasingly large numbers due to environmental stressors. 

“We therefore must look at migration as a permanent factor in the Pacific region.”

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