The sinking country

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The sinking country

The lawyers of a man from the Pacific Island of Kiribati say that the Refugee Convention needs to be changed to protect people who have to leave their country because of climate change.


Protesting for 'human rights in climate change'. (Itzafineday under a Creative Commons Licence)

His country is disappearing under water, so a man from Pacific Island nation Kiribati is fighting to become the first climate-change refugee in the world (recognised by law).

Ioane Teitiota is 37 and moved to New Zealand in 2007, with his wife, to seek asylum. The couple now have three young children and Teitiota says that if they went back to Kiribat, the family would be in danger.

Kiribati is one of the world’s lowest-lying countries, made up of 32 atolls (ring-shaped coral islands), and has a population of more than 100,000. Teitiota says they have extreme high tides (when the sea comes over the land). This kills all the plants and makes people ill by contaminating drinking water.

His lawyers say that the Refugee Convention is out of date and needs to change to include people who have to leave their country because of climate change.

Steve Trent, Executive Director at the Environmental Justice Foundation, agrees: ‘We need to look at the human rights in climate change,’ he says. ‘Tens of millions of people will need to leave their countries. Now they have no legal protection.'

‘The people who decide on laws, the people in government and the multinationals are very slow to see this and do something about it. We have a moral, political and economic obligation to change it now. If we don’t, we will have to pay far more in the future.’

The High Court in Auckland heard his appeal for asylum on 14 October and they have not yet decided what to do.