SUVA, Dec 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Vulnerable communities uprooted by climate change are being left out of global talks on migration, campaigners warned, calling for greater protection for climate migrants as the United States pulls out of the voluntary pact.
In low-lying small island states, like the Pacific islands, people are already moving within their own nations to flee worsening storms, sea level rise and other climate-related crises.
But being forced to relocate due to climate change will not be recognised in the United Nations talks on migration next year, an omission that puts lives at risk, said Emele Duituturaga, head of the Pacific Islands Association Non-Government Organisation (PIANGO).
“Many of the situations we find ourselves in, here in the Pacific, is not caused by us. We continue to ask, ‘Where is the justice?’ Those of us who are least responsible, continue to bear the brunt,” Duituturaga told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
“We hope that there will be an openness and an acceptance that climate-induced migration is one that the world community has to be responsible for,” she said on the sidelines of a conference run by PIANGO and global rights group CIVICUS in Fiji’s capital Suva.
For Telstar Jimmy, a student from the Bank Islands in northern Vanuatu, climate displacement is a daily reality for her family, who have relocated several times because of worsening cyclones and flooding.
Jimmy said her ancestral homelands and burial sites are slowly being washed away by rising seas.
“The foundations of our unique heritage were taken ... Relocation just meant safety and continuing to exist. But now the question is, ‘safe’ and ‘existing’ for how much longer?” she said.
Worldwide, sea levels have risen 26 centimetres (10 inches) since the late 19th century, driven up by melting ice and a natural expansion of water in the oceans as they warm, U.N. data show. Seas could rise by up to a metre by 2100.
With a record 21.3 million refugees globally, the 193-member U.N. General Assembly adopted a political declaration in September last year in which they also agreed to spend two years negotiating the pact on safe, orderly and regular migration.
U.S. President Donald Trump this week withdrew from negotiations because the global approach to the issue was “simply not compatible with U.S. sovereignty”.
Trump is also pulling out of the 2015 Paris Agreement, which aims to limit a rise in average world temperatures to “well below” two degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit) above pre-industrial times, ideally 1.5 (5.4F) to limit more droughts, floods, heatwaves and rising sea levels.
The U.S. is the only country not part of the climate agreement now that Syria and Nicaragua have joined.
“With climate-induced displacement, we know that there are already people, communities and countries at risk. It’s only going to get worse (and) we need to come up with ways to manage those flows,” said Danny Sriskandarajah, head of CIVICUS.
PIANGO and CIVICUS have joined climate group 350.org, aid charity Oxfam Pacific, Pacific Islands Development Forum (PIDF) and others, in drafting a declaration to recognise climate change as a key driver of migration, which they aim to present to the U.N. ahead of next year’s talks.
Though the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention grants refugee status to those fleeing persecution, wars, and conflicts, it does not include climate change as a reason to seek asylum.
New Zealand is proposing a special climate humanitarian visa for Pacific islanders who are forced to migrate.
Fiji plans to move more than 40 villages to higher ground to escape coastal floods and is also working on ways to help future migrants from other Pacific island nations as sea levels rise.
Vanuatu local Jimmy said she hopes countries around the world would continue to band together to help smaller countries like those in the Pacific.
“I’m a bit nervous because other countries may also pull out with the U.S. and that’s going to be a bigger issue for us. Especially at a time when we’re trying to battle climate change,” she said.
"Whatever each country does will impact the lives of other people around the whole globe," Jimmy said. (Reporting by Lin Taylor @linnytayls, Editing by xxxxx; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters that covers humanitarian issues, conflicts, land and property rights, modern slavery and human trafficking, gender equality, climate change and resilience. Visit news.trust.org to see more stories)