A ‘climate refugee’

On October 16,the man’s lawyer,Michael Kidd,plans to argue the case before New Zealand’s High Court.

Written by Associated Press | Published:October 6, 2013 12:03 am

A man from one of the lowest-lying nations on Earth is trying to convince New Zealand judges that he’s a refugee—suffering not from persecution,but climate change.

The 37-year-old and his wife left his remote atoll in the Pacific nation of Kiribati six years ago for higher ground and better prospects in New Zealand,where their three children were born. Immigration authorities have twice rejected his argument that rising sea levels make it too dangerous for them to return to Kiribati. On October 16,the man’s lawyer,Michael Kidd,plans to argue the case before New Zealand’s High Court.

Legal experts consider the man’s case a long shot,but it will nevertheless be closely watched,and might have implications for millions of residents in low-lying islands around the world.

Kiribati,an impoverished string of 33 coral atolls about halfway between Hawaii and Australia,has about 1.03 lakh people and has been identified by scientists as among the nations most vulnerable to climate change.

In a transcript,the Kiribati man describes extreme high tides known as king tides that regularly breach Kiribati’s defences—killing crops,flooding homes and sickening residents. New Zealand laws forbid naming him.

“There’s no future for us when we go back to Kiribati,” he says.

A tribunal recently rejected the claim because nobody is persecuting him. It also found no evidence that the environmental conditions on Kiribati were so bad that the man and his family would face imminent danger should they return.

Kidd argues that his client did suffer an indirect form of human persecution because climate change is believed to be caused by the pollution humans generate.

Kiribati’s government is pursuing its own strategies. It has paid a deposit for 6,000 acres in nearby Fiji,to provide food security and a possible refuge for future generations. The nation has also been talking with a Japanese firm about constructing a floating island.

Rimon Rimon,a Kiribati government spokesman,said they are also training people in skills like nursing,carpentry and automotive repairs so that if they do leave Kiribati,they can be productive in their adoptive countries.

NICK PERRY

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