Wednesday, 22nd November 2017

Climate “refugees” – The unsolved questions

Posted on 05. Jun, 2011 by Lan Marie in Uncategorized

The Nanumaga community singing Fatele during a celebration

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change predicts a sea level rise of 0,7 metres by the end of the century. Many projections even double this. Sea level rise represent a serious threat for small low-lying island states, such as Tuvalu and the Marshall Islands in the Pacific Ocean. The populations living on these islands might be forced to move within decades.

Where will the inhabitants of small island nations go if or when their country becomes uninhabitable? What rights should they have in their new home? What citizen status would they have? Would they still be a country? How can a completely displaced population be governed? And should climate refugees really have special international legal protection?

Several of these questions remain unresolved in international law and therefore laid the foundation of the discussion at the seminar “Threatened Island Nations – The legal implications of sea level rise” at Columbia University last week.

How can we ensure sovereignty for a population on foreign territory? How can we ensure that their culture doesn’t disappear? Will the people be able to live, as they lived in their home country – or will they be forced to take four different part-time jobs to be able to sustain their families?

Life in the host country might be totally different from the life that the displaced people used to live. For example, in Tuvalu the family and the island community represent the main pillars of the life of the inhabitants. Often the whole extended family (three to four generations and often containing several adopted children) lives on one or – if they are lucky – two salaries. The people without work participate in subsistence activities – fishing, taking care of the garden or the crops, making handicrafts and taking care of the household. Tuvaluans eat around 500g fish a day – often for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Home production counts for 30 percent of the food expenditure in the country, and 50 percent outside the capital. The lives of the Tuvaluans depend on the sea and their land – what will they do if they have to move to an 11-story block in the middle of Oslo?

As whole populations from the worlds small island states, and millions living in low lying areas might be forced to move within decades, these questions are increasingly concerning scientists, activists, governments and people around the world. Today another big international conference is kicked of in Oslo, Norway.

International scientists and thinkers are gathered for three days to share experiences and opinions (http://nansenconference.no/). Follow the conference though our eyes at klima-tuvalu.

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