The IUCN Academy of Environmental Law series
Chapter 12: Safe harbours, closed borders? New Zealand legal and policy responses to climate displacement in the South Pacific
Amid recurrent media depictions of ‘sinking islands’ and scenarios of mass relocation of island communities from low-lying atolls, three consistent messages from Pacific peoples can be heard. The first is that for most, their wish and intention is to continue to live in their home countries despite the mounting effects of climate change with dignity, in safety and prosperity. Secondly, Pacific communities have no wish to relieve the international community of its obligations and commitments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by offering large-scale migration from low-lying islands as ‘the’ solution to climate change within the region. Thirdly, migration should, if it is ultimately necessary, be undertaken in a planned, coordinated way, respecting and reflecting the resilience of people who are no strangers to re-establishing themselves in new environments in response to changing environmental conditions. This is what they have done for centuries. For over 150 years, New Zealand has played a significant role in the South Pacific. Vibrant cultural, political, economic, and sporting interchanges reflect recognition amongst a broad cross-section of New Zealand society that its spiritual as well as geographic home is within the southern waters of the Pacific, rather than cities or fields of Europe. New Zealand hosts significant expatriate populations of Samoan, Tongan, Tuvaluan and others of Pacific origin. The ancestors of its indigenous Maori population traversed the Pacific Ocean to establish their home there.
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