Palm trees topple due to coastal erosion on the Carteret islands, which is at risk from rising sea levels. Photo: Citt/flickr

By Greg Harman
15 September 2014

(The Guardian) – The island paradise is under attack. Thanks to destabilizing forces of climate change – rising sea levels and strengthening storms, particularly – some of Earth’s most picturesque locations are being scrubbed from the map. And the residents of these postcard settings are being forced to consider relocating to avoid being swept away into the sea.

In Tuvalu, a collection of reef islands and atolls midway between Hawaii and Australia, saltwater intrusion has already made it difficult to grow traditional crops, and the rainfall that provides much of the drinking water has become unreliable. Despite investments in freshwater storage systems and makeshift bulwarks to slow coastal erosion, much of the nation – where the average land height is a mere 2 meters (about 6.5 feet) above sea level – will likely be under water by the end of the century.

“It’s already like a weapon of mass destruction,” Tuvalu Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga said last month of the impact climate change is having on his nation.

In what has been called a landmark ruling, New Zealand’s immigration court in August granted a Tuvaluan family legal residency after the pair’s attorneys argued, in part, that climate change and overpopulation has made life untenable on their native island. The ruling in favor of Sigeo Alesana and his family came just three months after New Zealand rejected the world’s first climate refugee claim, that of Ioane Teitiota from Kiribati.

Because the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees still doesn’t recognize climate change as valid factor for refugee status, the New Zealand attorneys representing the Tuvaluan couple also relied on more traditional arguments – including the existence of established family relationships inside New Zealand – to make their clients’ claim.

“To be successful, it need[ed] to be argued beyond the convention, which is what we did,” Carole Curtis wrote the Guardian by email.

But the roughly 10,800 residents of Tuvalu are by no means the only ones at risk of losing their homes to climate change. While the estimates of future migrants vary widely, from tens of thousands to one billion, there’s little question that an increase in climate refugees is on the way.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reported in a 2012 paper that forced migrations will likely grow in the years ahead. “For locations such as atolls,” the report reads, “in some cases it is possible that many residents will have to relocate.”

A thousand miles due west of Tuvalu, a staged relocation effort has been underway for years, as hundreds of islanders from the Carteret atoll make their way to the larger island of Bougainville, 50 miles southwest.

The increasing infertility of the atoll soils, a consequence of increasing saltwater intrusion, has been a major factor in the decision to relocate, said Ursula Rakova, who is helping lead the Carteret islanders to the “big island”. [more]

Has the great climate change migration already begun?


  1. Anonymous said...

    Doesn't this contradict another article posted here?

    There appears to be some effort to deceive the general public about what is happening at sea level.

    Depending on the author, what gets reported and what it denied, the message is still getting contradictory press.

    But it's not rocket science. Either the sea level is rising - or it is not. Either this is a problem - or it is not.

    I think the evidence is "in" on which true.  


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