'Climate refugees’ connotation rejected in Kiribati dialogue

Media release 14 October 2015

Last weekend’s high-level dialogue on climate-induced migration was held in Ambo, Kiribati. It provided a successful forum for discussing threats to Pacific atoll nations that lie at the forefront of climate change, particularly sea level rise. A key outcome was that relocation from atoll nations is a response of last resort, rejecting the “climate refugee” connotation.

The meeting was funded by Prince Albert II of Monaco, who was present at the meeting himself. Charismatic President of Kiribato, Anote Tong, brought together delegations from Tuvalu (Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga), Marshall Islands (Charge d’Affairs Tregar Albon Ishoda), Fiji (Special Envoy Litia Mawi) and Tokelau (Special Envoy Paula Faiva). Also represented were the United Nations (Assistant Secretary General Mr. Haoliang Xu) and the European Union (Ambassador Andrew Jacob).
In their closing statement, all participants expressed grave concern over the lack of international response to this challenge for atoll nations: the threat of sea level rise is a reality there today and poses major challenges, Pacific peoples are extreme vulnerable to the inevitable climate-induced disasters which are growing in frequency and intensity over time.

This is raising the potential of future mass migration and the need to relocate people to higher islands (such as happened in the 1960s and 1970s from Tokelau to New Zealand). But the consensus was that relocation is a response of last resort, rejecting any connotation that people will become “climate refugees”.

Nevertheless the climate change frontline countries called for international support to prepare thier people for “migration with dignity”. By that is meant: “the timely, orderly and fully resourced cross-border relocation of people as a response to the adverse impacts of climate change, with the full respect of their international community”.

Outcomes agreed! Conference panel and signatories comprising (left to right) Ms Paula Faiva, Head of Delegation from Tokelau; Honorable Enele Sosene Sopoaga, Prime Minister of Tuvalu; His Excellency Anote Tong, President of Kiribati; His Serene Highness Prince Albert II of Monaco; and Honorable Litia Mawi, Fiji Roving Ambassador and High Commissioner to Pacific Island Countries.
The meeting also called on the globalcommunity and all those with the capacity to assist, for urgent financial and technical support to atoll people. This could include immediate access to the Green Climate Fund, additional funding facilities and new support mechanisms.

Such funding will “enhance adaptation efforts and build resilience towards achieving the following urgent priorities:
i)        Clean water and supplementing existing water resource;
ii)        Protection of coastlines;
iii)       Climate proof infrastructure and sustainable development initiatives;
iv)       Building up islands to heights above the predicted sea level rise; and
v)       Strengthening the capacity and preparedness of atoll people to the changes in the global climate system, through greater focus on health, education, workforce skills, communication and public awareness programmes.”

The final statement also implores world’s leaders to take decisive steps in Paris, less than two months from now. It expresses the hope that the COP21 meeting will conclude a climate agreement that includes urgent mechanisms to support the most vulnerable people on the frontline of the changes to our climate system.

Inhabitants of the atoll nations Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Tokelau, Tuvalu [and Maldives] are united in the Coalition of low-lying Atoll Nations on Climate Change (CANCC). They deserve top attention at the climate change conference in Paris.
The full Outcomes document is also available.
For further information contact:
Paula Faiva, Climate Change Unit 
Office of the Council for the Ongoing Government of Tokelau, Apia, Samoa
Email: paulafaiva@gmail.com, phone +685 775 8820