Climate change and Pacific Island nations

I attended a meeting about climate change tonight which included a speaker from the Pacific Island nation of Tuvalu. Accompanied by some visual images, her message about the danger climate change presents to her country was compelling.

As I noted last year when I met some MPs from Micronesia, it is a lot harder to be blasé or sanguine about the impacts of climate change when someone is talking directly to you about the damage happening now in their own homeland, and the stress and anxiety people are feeling about the future. This piece by Dr Mark Hayes in Online Opinion also gives a first hand idea of what the reality of climate change means for the people of Kirabiti and Tuvalu.

Whilst our government dodges questions about climate change refugees by saying that people fleeing environmental disasters do not fit the criteria of refugee under the Refugee Convention (a point which is technically true, but also ignores human reality and everyday usage of the term), the potential of having to flee your homeland and be unable to return, along with the disconnection from culture and identity that can go with it, equates precisely with the refugee experience.

There was also a speaker from the Labor Party there who talked about “Our Drowning Neighbours”, the discussion paper released last year, prior to that party’s leadership change, by the former shadow Ministers for Pacific Island Affairs and the Environment respectively. (as an aside, whilst the leadership change is obviously going well for Labor, I do think it’s a shame they no longer have a shadow ministry position focussed specifically on the Pacific, as our own region is shamefully neglected in much political and policy debate.) This paper isn’t official Labor policy as yet, but it is still very welcome that the issue has received that level of attention from the alternative party of government.

This article from last year describes a World Bank policy paper, “Not If But When”, which examines the potential impacts of climate change on Pacific Island nations and what needs to be done to adapt. This piece is about a village in Vanuatu which has been affected.

In amongst considerations about Australia’s obligations to accept environmental refugees from Pacific Island nations, I believe we also need to keep looking at making access to Australia for work purposes easier for people from these nations. I’ve mentioned before that we take in over 100 000 people on Working Holiday visas each year, mostly from western Europe and North America, to perform unskilled work, yet we will not allow in workers from Pacific Island countries to do such work, even in seasonal jobs where it is sometimes hard for employers to find sufficient workers. There was a Senate Committee Inquiry into this issue last year, and I found myself in rare agreement with Tasmanian Liberal Senator, Guy Barnett, in suggestion we should do a trial on opening up this type of migration.

Helping people from Pacific Islands affected by climate change won’t just involve letting people come to live in Australia whose islands have become uninhabitable. More frequently, it will mean helping them adapt, which to me should include better access to technological assistance and the wealth creating and skill development opportunities to help their local economies adapt.

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  1. Yeah! All good and human ,and Australia should have a more open access to troubled people,and yet,there is something amiss here.Australia wasnt the colonising power,it is a neighbour,and the world bank isnt exactly gung ho on independence,more interdependence which invalidates its concern for Islanders.This is just undressed naked dancing in the window,to get the customers in to flog them money solves all evils.And it is likely the potential science application is a scantily applied as the bloody banks,ALP,and glib LIBS.,then suggest to me the wonderful monoculture of palm tree production for clean fuel wont add a few other places to the list.Do we really understand all the movements in the oceans Senator?Are all the prognostications on ocean movements rather than height of tide reaching shore any degree accurate,seeing that map making satellite viewing and chaos movements as physics theory are not completed for shoreline,and subsurface!? Perhaps it maybe more practical to give Islanders large ships,including the buying of the whaling fleet of Japan by the world Bank.Now,if this seems uncaring,I am not trying to be I have seen floods in Australia,and well Indonesian problems are not easy.The recent spill of oozing mud,reminded me of an article I read in a magazine recently about what the great pyramid of Giza was made of would the World Bank be interested?

  2. Yes Andrew, the people of Vanuatu and other low lying areas will need to move to higher ground – either in their own localities, or if necessary, to other countries.

    They can hardly stay there and drown.

    I’m glad I went to Sunday School as a child, where I learned that “the foolish man built his house upon the sand”.

    No insult is meant to fishing villagers.

  3. Thanks, Andrew.

    In the end, it doesn’t matter what we believe has caused global warming. It’s effects can be catastrophic.

  4. Ermm, have you considered that Tuvalu is situated on top of a shifting tectonic plate, and could well be sinking? Up until recently, they could measure sea level in relation to the land, but had no method of measuring whether or not the land was sinking. You might wait for more data on this and the issue of local removal of sand and coral for buildin before you invoke global warming catastrophe as the culprit.

  5. “Helping people from Pacific Islands affected by climate change won’t just involve letting people come to live in Australia… it will mean helping them adapt…opportunities to help their local economies adapt”

    Some Good points in your writings, but how can Tuvaluans “adapt” when on most days they are flooded. The issue isn’t entirely IF Tuvalu will “sink” – its how they can live when you have knee deep water on the island – how can you grow crops? The land is getting worse and worse for argriculture…

    This issue needs attention…

  6. Fair point Zac. I was thinking of pacific island nations more generally, but it may well turn out to be almost impossible for the people of Tuvalu and Kiribati to adapt if the impact is too severe – although we shouldn’t give up on it yet I think.

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