Earlier this week, a Kiribati man was refused a “climate change refugee bid”. The man argued that he had the right to claim refugee status in New Zealand because his home country is in danger from rising sea levels.
The New Zealand immigration tribunal accepted the threat of climate change in Kiribati but did not acknowledge that the man’s life was in immediate danger. The tribunal asserted that, "There is no evidence establishing that the environmental conditions that he faced or is likely to face on return are so parlous that his life will be placed in jeopardy, or that he and his family will not be able to resume their prior subsistence life with dignity".
To reiterate the above statement, “environmental conditions that he faced or IS LIKELY TO FACE” (emphasis added), are not considered immediate dangers and will not have an effect on his ability to live a “[subsistent] life with dignity”.
Meanwhile, Marshall Islands president Christopher Loeak declared that, “climate change is here” and the threat is “immediate”. Kiribati and the Marshall Islands are two of a few low-lying coral atoll nations in the world. Current projections suggest that the sea level will rise as high as 6 feet in the next 100 years, that’s enough height to fully submerge the Marshall Islands and Kiribati. Along with this impending fate, current situations are just as bad. President Loeak explains that the Marshall Islands are facing excessive and uncommon droughts, floods, and higher waves.
Climate change is clearly here. But what, or who is responsible?
Sept. 27, 2013. The United Nations urges a worldwide response to climate change following a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report that concluded, “it is ‘extremely likely’ that humans have been the dominant cause of unprecedented global warming since 1950”. The IPCC confirms, “there is a 95 percent probability that [global warming] has been caused by human influence”. Six years ago in 2007, the IPCC suggested that it is “very likely” that humans are responsible for the adverse changes in the climate. The IPCC uses the term, “very likely” to indicate a 90-95% probability rate. A 95-100% probability is termed “extremely likely”. A 100 percent probability rate is termed, “virtually certain”.
Though there may be other non-human contributors to climate change, it is a virtual certainty that climate change is already having a harmful effect on atoll nations. The UN is currently promoting a “limit [to] the global temperature rise to 2 degrees Celsius to avoid the worst impacts of climate change".
The Executive Secretary of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Christina Figueres, stated, “Thankfully, momentum to fight climate change is building. We know that success is possible. We have the technology, funding and ability to respond. The many successes at domestic, international and private sector levels to build a low-carbon society shine light on the way forward, but we do need to quickly go to scale".
Her statement raises another important question. Who is she referring to, or whom is she trying to convince to “quickly go to scale”? Who is the UN trying to “urge” to take seriously the consequences of climate change?
The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) ranked the world’s countries based on total CO2 emissions. CO2, or carbon dioxide, is the primary gas emitted through human activities that is causing climate change. The major CO2 emitting countries in 2008 had China at the top with 23% of the world’s carbon emissions, USA at 19%, the European Union at 13%, Russia and India at 6% each, and Japan at 4%. These six regions accounted for over 70% of the world’s carbon emissions. In fairness, they also account for over 50% of the World’s population.
However, in comparison, out of the 216 countries that are listed in the carbon emissions list, the Marshall Islands rank 203rd. Kiribati is listed at 211th. The percentage of emissions from these regions are so small, that they were lumped into a group of 207 other countries (including Palau 192nd and FSM 204th) that accounted for 28% of global carbon emissions.
That means that 7 out of 216 countries are responsible for over 70% of climate change.
The atoll nations of Kiribati and the Marshall Islands are facing the conditions of climate change today. Policy makers from leading carbon-emitting countries continue to juggle their financial, political and economical interests with the “extremely likely” probability that they are to blame for most of the earth’s climate problems.
If these leading countries do not act immediately, we will feel the depth of their inaction. It is possible, that within our lifetime, or that of the very next generation, the people of Micronesia will become climate change refugees.
1. Pacific Islands Report (PIR). "Kiribati Man Refused Climate Change Refugee Bid."
2. New York Times (NY Times). "Climate Change Has Reached Our Shores."
3. United Nations. "UN urges global response to scientific evidence that climate change is human-induced."
4. United States Environmental Protection Agency. "Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data".
5. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). "Human influence in climate clear, IPCC report says".
6. The CIA, World Factbook.