Environmental refugees: Howard’s Catch 22

Howard blind to climate change refugees 

Ian Fry, adviser to the Tuvalu Government’s Environment Department, told The Age that Tuvalu Prime Minister Maatia Toafa requested a meeting with John Howard at last October’s Pacific Islands Forum in Fiji to discuss the looming climate change crisis facing the island, but was denied, reported The Age (20/2/2007, p.4).

Second snub in six years: A senior Tuvalu Government source said it was the second time in six years that Australia had refused such a request.

NZ takes in 75 Tuvaluans a year: Unlike New Zealand, which in 2001 began accepting 75 Tuvaluans a year, Australia has so far not acknowledged the prospect of climate refugees.

Australia to take in climate refugees? But it may soon be forced to do so, with last year’s influential Stern report on climate change predicting millions of people in the Asia-Pacific region could be displaced by global warming.

"Environmental refugee" label not in Refugee Convention: Documents obtained by The Age from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet state that although Australia would assist its Pacific neighbours, there is no such thing as an "environmental refugee” because it is not a category under the Refugee Convention.

Immigration Dept not thinking about climate-induced people movements: Immigration Department secretary Andrew Metcalfe told a Senate estimates hearing in November that the Government had done no planning on how people movement caused by climate change in the Asia-Pacific region might affect Australia.

The Age, 20/2/2007, p. 4

Source: Erisk Net 


The Sydney Morning Herald ran Labor’s approach to environmental refugees 

Labor bid to accept climate change refugees

January 5, 2006 – 11:09AM

Australia should prepare to accept climate change refugees from Pacific island nations likely to "sink" under rising sea levels, Labor says.

The federal opposition will today release a Pacific climate change strategy aimed at planning for mass relocations of people living on vulnerable islands in Australia’s region.

Low-lying Pacific island states like Tuvalu – whose islands lie just a few metres above sea level – are at risk from rising sea levels brought about by global warming.

Full story  


Back in October 26, 2006, the Sydney Morning Herald ran this article on the subject

Calls mount for Pacific refugee policy

October 9, 2006 – 8:54AM

Australia is under increasing pressure to formulate a policy to take in environmental refugees following warnings that millions of people in the Asia-Pacific could be left homeless because of climate change.

A CSIRO report released Monday raised concerns that millions of people on low-lying islands and lands in Asia-Pacific nations will be left homeless in the next 40 years due to rising sea levels induced by climate change.

The report, compiled with the support of aid agencies, warns of a crisis once the effects of climate change kick in, with dramatic effect on Australia.

World Vision chief executive Tim Costello said the poorest people in the poorest countries would be hardest hit by climate change and Australia had a duty to help.

"Climate change will fundamentally change the way we aid the world’s poor," he said.

"It will undermine the value and impact of current aid spending and will lead to far greater calls for assistance from those hurt most.

"The impacts of climate change will require Australia to respond far more frequently."

The report listed several policy recommendations, including Australia to reduce greenhouse pollution, priority for renewable energy and energy efficiency programs in developing countries, helping communities prepare for disasters, and review immigration programs for displaced people.

Environment Minister Ian Campbell said Australia would not turn its back on its neighbours but he refused to commit to taking refugees.

He said the focus on helping Pacific nations cope with climate change should be economic and ensure that Pacific islanders stay in their home countries.

"The Australian government’s focus is ensuring these countries have got strong economies and they are resilient in themselves," Senator Campbell said.

"Australia, however, has always stood by our Pacific neighbours in times of need and that will never change."

Opposition environment spokesman Anthony Albanese accused the government of being too slow to react to the reality of climate change.

He said Senator Campbell had failed to show leadership on the issue and had no strategy to combat climate change and its effect on Pacific countries.

"Pacific countries need a plan now, not when they are already under water," Mr Albanese said.

"Tuvalu is expected to become uninhabitable within 10 years because of rising sea levels, not in many decades, as the minister said."

Senator Campbell said Labor was running up a white flag to climate change.

"The Labor Party’s policy is to evacuate the Pacific islands and see the Pacific islanders flood into the suburbs of Sydney and Brisbane," he told parliament.

"That’s the white flag policy on what’s happening in the Pacific. Our policy is to fund on-the-ground work, to cooperate with the Pacific islanders."

Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told parliament the government was doing much to help Pacific and Asian regional nations deal with climate change, particularly through its Asia-Pacific Partnership on Clean Development and Climate (AP6), which emphasises finding technological solutions to global warming.

Australian Greens leader Bob Brown said Australia should accept environmental refugees because it was culpable for the effects of climate change.

"There is no more delinquent and culpable government in the Western world than the Howard government," he said.

"This is another major issue coming like a tsunami to the whole world – the disastrous economic, environmental and social consequences of global change."

© 2006 AAP



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