People who live in the Pacific nations are on the frontline of climate change. A new survey conducted by the United Nations University and the European Union found that Pacific Islanders are considering migration should climate change consequences continue to worsen. Droughts, floods and rising sea levels have already forced thousands to leave their homes.
The survey found that over 70 percent of residents in Tuvalu and Kiribati and 35 percent of households in Nauru have family members who are open to the idea of leaving their homes and seeking refuge elsewhere. However, some households have little budget for mobility and are left with even fewer options.
The survey covered 6,852 people on the three island nations. Only 26 percent had enough resources to migrate. Their monthly average income per capita is around $12.
Since 2005, about 15 percent of households in Tuvalu, 10 percent in Nauru and 1.3 percent in Kiribati have moved internationally. The study predicts that climate change will cause a sharp surge in international migration from the three Pacific islands by 2055.
In the past 100 years, the islands have seen a 20-centimeter increase in sea levels. The islands have also experienced "king tides" and storms that are expected to worsen due to global warming. In 2014, Kiribati purchased a 6,000-acre land in Fiji as part of a "migration with dignity" policy. The purchased land is intended to protect future food rations and provide a possible future relocation for residents if sea levels continue to rise.
"Pacific islanders are facing the brunt of climate change impacts and are increasingly finding themselves with few options," said Enele Sosene Sopoaga, Tuvalu's Prime Minister, commenting on the recent report.
Several countries, including New Zealand, have rejected asylum applications from Pacific Islanders. Under the United Nations' 1951 refugee agreement, the Pacific Islanders can't be considered refugees, since they were not persecuted due to religion, race, or political opinion. Moreover, the U.N. refugee agency is against adding a new category for climate refugees.
The report was published online on the United Nations University website.
Photo: Luigi Guarino | Flickr