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Gone With The Waves

Climate change impacts all life across the world.  The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) transmits three key messages on climate change: that a warming in the climate system is unequivocal, that human influence on the climate system is clear and that continued Green House Gas (GHG) emissions will cause further climate change and constitute multi-centric commitment in the future. This contributes to already clear evidence that climate change poses the greatest threat to earth, that it is our fault and that we cannot continue to fail addressing it.

 

Small Island Developing States (SIDS) are amongst the most vulnerable to global climate change. SIDS are a distinct group of 38 UN Member States and 20 Non-UN Members Associate Members of regional commissions facing unique social, economic and environmental vulnerabilities. The three geographical regions in which SIDS are located are the Caribbean, Pacific, and the Atlantic, Indian Ocean and South China Sea. The drastic consequences of climate change have already been seen in the Carteret Islands, which representing the world’s first official evacuation of an entire people because of climate change, were evacuated in 2009.  Around 2000 people lost their homeland and had to migrate to the nearby Papua New Guinean Island of Bougainville.

The Carteret Islands have now gone with the waves and have become completely uninhabitable. Unfortunately this does not seem to be an isolated incident, for many more populations might soon find themselves in the same situation. Following the conservative IPCC projections, sea levels are predicted to rise up to 1m by 2100. If such predictions are correct it would mean that the Maldives Islands would be underwater by 2085. 

 

This poses questions regarding the distribution of resources and responsibilities. Unlike the problems of other developing states, and the more general problem of migration, the very urgent and acute problem of SIDS has so far been largely neglected in discussion of global justice. Letting populations go under the waves is not an acceptable solution and therefore the international community has a special moral obligation to respond. It is a special moral obligation for two main reasons.

Firstly, climate change and sea level rise are not unaccountable disasters. They are a consequence of human action. Therefore as Kolers suggests, it would be more accurate to think of the loss of these countries as crime scenes in which the perpetrators have to pay for compensation. Secondly, climate migrants must be regarded as a special category of international migrants who need further protection than that given to other refugees. For they will be permanent stateless people that will soon lack the governing body to ensure the protection of their rights. They will therefore need to be given special status, either through an international treaty or a framework of regional and international cooperation.

 

Although it is still uncertain whether migration will be necessary in some places, it seems to be only a matter of time in others. Assuming, therefore, that migration will be the only viable measure in some places, we need to consider several things.

Firstly, what would in fact be the ideal way to migrate? It is essential to start discussing and planning what migration is going to look like. Otherwise, climate migrants will be treated as an emergency which will lead to rushed decisions that will seriously affect the conditions under which migration will happen. People form SIDS deserve their future to be well thought out in advanced.

Secondly, who is to decide? It is crucial not to assume that a certain agent will make the decisions but question what role the islanders will have in decision-making. They deserve to be listened to. Finally, it will be seen that addressing climate change in SIDS will be expensive, therefore, for it to be a realistic project, who should bear the cost of addressing climate change in SIDS must be considered. 

SIDS, or if it is too late, at least their populations, deserve to persist. They cannot become just a memory in history. The international community has a strong obligation to further research the situation, listen to SIDS’ voices and create the necessary mechanisms to make their lives go beyond mere survival.

By Africa Bauza Garcia-Arciollar

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