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  • Writer's pictureCaterina Sullivan

How Climate Refugees Will Impact Australia

Updated: Nov 4, 2018

Image credit: TANAKA Juuyoh

We know that sea levels are rising and weather patterns are changing due to the ongoing threat of climate change. As sea levels rise, coastal areas are increasingly in peril of being submerged.

Some of the first places in the world to experience this are the low-lying islands in the South Pacific.

Many may ask what this has to do with Australia. Well, it matters to us for two reasons.

1. We are responsible global citizens with a strong moral compass and all human life is precious. We should, as fellow human beings, be concerned about the well-being of others.

2. Australia is in very close proximity to some of the areas which will be most severely affected, meaning that many of the people living in the area will look to seek asylum here once their land is under water.

The Carteret Islands in Papua New Guinea will be among the first to go, their highest point only 1.5m above sea level. A relocation program has already begun from these islands. One group, Tulele Peisa which is currently working towards the relocation of half of the population of the Carteret Islands - about 1,700 people in total - by 2020. These people are the first known and documented climate refugees of this era.

Image credit: Citt

In the neighbouring Mortlock, Nuguria and Tasman Islands, schools have closed due to the inability of children to concentrate as a result of the lack of food caused by the destruction of crops due to rising sea levels.

These refugees are looking to nearby Bougainville 2,715m above sea level. However, Bougainville will only be able to provide refuge for a certain number of climate refugees.

Other countries, such as Kiribati, have purchased land elsewhere. In the case of Kiribati, the government has purchased land on Vanua Levu, a Fijian Island, to plan for the future of climate change.

While solutions are in play now, it is only a matter of time before countries start looking to Australia for refuge. In 2007, Kiribati-born Ioane Teitiota arrived in New Zealand. Last year, he applied for refugee status due to the threat of climate change but was deported in September. At this current time, climate refugees are not recognised by the 1951 Geneva Refugee Convention, which only applies to people who fear "being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality or political opinion".

The United Nations estimates that up to 200 million people will be displaced due to rising sea levels by 2050. It is also projected that 250,000 Australian properties will be inundated by 2100. This seems like a long time away; however, it is in the best interest of our children and our grandchildren that we act now.

What can the government do?

While it is important we uphold our commitment to Target 17.2: contributing 0.7% of Gross National Income to Overseas Development Assistance, it is of paramount importance that we look beyond the funding to the "bandaid solution". By this, I mean that we look at the root cause and address that rather than look at the secondary effects and treat those. It is vital that we invest in climate mitigation through looking at the Global Goals, especially Goal 7, Goal 12, Goal 13, Goal 14 and Goal 15.

What can we do?

It's easy to make your own contribution to the mitigation of climate change, such as installing solar panels, switching off lights when not in use, recycling, etc.. Share some of the ways you are contributing to the Global Goals and providing the opportunity for global citizens to remain in their motherlands and not be forced to seek asylum elsewhere by contacting us today!

This article was originally published on the Global Goals Australia Campaign website.

#globalgoals #goal13 #climateaction #climatechange #refugees

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