Is he the world’s first official ‘climate refugee’?

Associated Press is currently running a story about a Kiribati man, who cannot be named for legal reasons, trying to persuade the New Zealand judicial system that he should be allowed to remain in New Zealand because he is a refugee — not from political persecution, but from ‘climate change’.

The back story is that he and his wife left Kiribati six years ago for New Zealand, and they have three children all born in New Zealand. I don’t know the details of the case, and the AP story doesn’t provide them, but apparently NZ immigration authorities have twice rejected his argument that rising sea-levels make it too dangerous for him to return to Kiribati. Now he has a lawyer planning to argue the case before a New Zealand court, and is prepared, he says, to take the case to the Supreme Court if he fails.

Where exactly is Kiribati, you ask? Well, it’s a collection of islands east of Papua New Guinea and north of New Zealand that covers about 1.5 million square kilometres of ocean. When I was young I collected stamps, and some of my favourites were those of the Gilbert and Ellice islands. In the business of forming micro states in the 1970s the Gilberts became part of  the new nation of Kiribati (100,000 people), while the Ellice islands became part of Tuvalu (11,000 people), further to the north. Tuvalu, incidentally, is the third smallest nation in the world, only the Vatican City and Nauru being less populous.

Both island nations are worried about rising sea levels, and both will have seen the AR5 IPCC report as a weapon with which to entreat the rich nations to do something for them. Kiribati has been one of the active participants in the global warming business, especially in the Conferences of the Parties, like Copenhagen and Cancun, and in the Alliance of Small Island States. All that is by way of background.

A transcript obtained by AP sets out the man’s case, which seems to be based on king tides that started in 1998. These tides breach the sea walls surrounding his village, which is overcrowded; the tides then destroy crops and foul the water supplies. Similar stories have come from Tuvalu, the Maldives and the Carteret Islands. On examination, it is hard to see global warming or even ‘climate change’ as the cause, and I have written about some of these cases here (pp 8-10).

What do the immigration officials in New Zealand think about this case? Well, one decision has been made public, and in it the tribunal member said that ‘the legal concept of a refugee is someone who is being persecuted, which requires human interaction’. He said the tribunal rejected the man’s claim ‘because nobody is persecuting him’.

More, the tribunal found that ‘there was no evidence that the environmental conditions on Kiribati were so bad that the man and his family would face imminent danger should they return…. the man’s claim was also rejected because the family’s predicament was no different than that faced by the wider population of Kiribati’.

Aha! The man’s lawyer now argues that the fact that other people face the same threat is no reason to dismiss a claim, and that his client does suffer ‘an indirect form of human persecution because climate change is caused by greenhouse gases generated by human activity’. He also said his client would also face the threat of a climate-induced breakdown in law and order should he return.

I’m no lawyer, but this does seem to me to be drawing the long bow — ingenious, maybe, but unlikely to succeed. As always, the basis of the scare is rising sea-levels, and AR5 says that seas might rise around a metre or more by the end of the century. The trouble is, there is such conflicting material about sea-levels, and my current position is simply to suspend judgment.

Even if I accepted the IPCC estimate of around 3mm a year — and I think it is likely too high for an annual rise into the future, when set against other evidence — that would lead to a rise of 260mm by 2100, which is hardly terror-inspiring.

And I know that someone will want to point out that the IPCC says that its models project a much faster rate of warming as the century progresses. And I reply, wearily, that given the IPCC can’t even explain the current pause in warming (it now talks of a ‘hiatus’, presumably because that sounds more scientific than a ‘pause’), why should anyone take seriously the projections of its models for the latter part of this century?

King tides and and el Nino events occur from time to time in the Pacific, and I recognise that they will be most unpleasant to those who live on low-lying coral atolls. I have little doubt that if really destructive storms wrecked these settlements Australia and New Zealand would get in to help. But I think before anyone talks seriously about ‘climate change’ as the cause they should do the appropriate homework. It’s not hard to do.

And I’ll probably only hear of the case again if the Kiribati man wins.


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