Global warming and climate refugees

June 21, 2008

Contaminated wells, dying marine life and crops being destroyed by extreme weather are just a few of the challenges facing the 11,000 residents of Tuvalu, a Pacific nation that is the second smallest in the world.

The crisis of climate refugees was discussed at a public meeting on June 19.

Fikau Teponga, from Kaiga Tuvalu Victoria, a network of Tuvaluan families, described the uncertainty facing his tiny nation. He pointed out that due to food insecurity, Tuvalu may become uninhabitable long before it is submerged by rising sea levels, while First World countries largely responsible for the greenhouse effect are "refusing to throw out a lifeline".

Cam Walker, from Friends of the Earth, emphasised a human rights perspective on climate change, pointing out that the mainstream debate largely ignores the issue of climate justice. He argued that Australia needs to recognise its obligations to the global South and urgently accept climate refugees. "We need to become citizens of the Earth", and take urgent action now, he said.

David Manne from the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre stressed the urgent need for an audit of the scale of the problem. He also criticised the changing policy of the ALP, pointing out that they acknowledged the issue of climate refugees in a policy paper released in January 2006, but are now focusing on aid instead of migration assistance, and immigration minister Chris Evans has ruled out accepting climate refugees at present.

The meeting was organised by Darebin Ethnic Communities Council, and attendees voted to pressure the Darebin City Council to adopt a sister relationship with Tuvalu and to seek to bring more attention to this issue, including the need for the federal government to accept climate refugees.

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