27 Aug 2014

Climate change refugees off SIDS agenda

2:04 pm on 27 August 2014

There is regret that next week's conference on Small Island Developing States in Samoa will bypass the issue of creating a new category of environmental refugees.

Rising sea levels and climate change threaten people's livelihood and may force them to leave their islands or countries.

The group, Friends of the Earth International, says it believes so-called climate refugees have a legitimate claim for asylum and should be recognised under the UN Refugee Convention and offered international protection.

A group spokesperson, Sara Shaw, says unfortunately, the very developed nations responsible for the vast majority of the climate-changing gases present in the atmosphere today are those refusing to extend the refugee convention to include climate refugees.

She says worse still, they are trying to weaken existing international protection for refugees.

The world's first-ever climate change refugee claimant, a national of Kiribati, lost his asylum appeal in a New Zealand court last May on the ground that international refugee law does not recognise global warming and rising sea levels as a valid basis for asylum status.

Norway and Switzerland have launched the Nansen Initiative, a project aimed to have countries provide legal cover for people forced to cross borders by a natural disaster.

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Photo: RNZ