Climate change to create millions of refugees

October 21, 2006

Millions of people on low-lying islands and lands in the Asia-Pacific region will become refugees in the next 40 years due to rising sea levels induced by climate change, according to a CSIRO report issued on October 8. The report was written by scientists with CSIRO's marine and atmospheric research division, and was commissioned by aid and conservation agencies forming the national Climate Change and Development Roundtable.

sea levels on Pacific island-countries was best dealt with through "economic development". "The Australian government's focus is ensuring these countries have got strong economies and they are resilient in themselves", he declared.

Meanwhile, Australia's actual aid program remains shamefully low. Where it does allocate large "aid" funds, such as in the Solomon Islands, it is to support colonial-style intervention to create "good governance" for Australian businesses to make profits out of exploiting the resources of its Pacific island neighbours.

Global-warming deniers argue that the use of the word "refugee" to describe environmentally displaced people is wrong as they are not officially recognised under the UN refugee convention. A short-term aim of both the environment and refugees' rights movements should be to achieve such recognition, by the UN and individual governments.

Accepting such refugees should not be at the expense of other refugee intakes. A new international convention needs to acknowledge the number of people whose lives are being destroyed by current global environmental policies. It should include compensation for the financial and environmental obligations of "over-polluting" countries such as Australia, which has the world's second highest level of per capita greenhouse gas emissions.

Alongside the ending of mandatory detention and increasing the refugee intake, we need to pressure the Howard government to open its doors to environmental refugees, linking this campaign to that for serious measures to tackle the causes of climate change.

[Andrew Hall is a member of the Canberra Refugee Action Committee and the Socialist Alliance.]

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