Banaban Voice

News and information service for Banaban Network Worldwide!

Climate refugees — the hidden cost of climate change

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

“If these people can spend millions and millions on sending troops to fight other countries, why can’t they spend maybe a couple of billions just to save people, like ourselves; the marginalised, poorest of the poor. Why? Because we are taking the brunt, we are the victims of these green[house] gas emissions, the pollution made by industrialised countries.”

These words were spoken by a Carteret Islander in an unfinished documentary, The First Wave, the evacuation of the Carteret Islands.

For the inhabitants of Pacific and Indian Ocean island nations, such as the Carteret Islands, climate change is already a devastating reality.

Brad Crouch reported on on October 4, that the Tuvaluan prime minister, Apisai Ielemia, visited Canberra in August to “secretly” float a plan for the mass migration of the country’s citizens.

Tuvalu is a micro state, made up of eight low-lying atolls and coral islands with an estimated population of just under 12,000. It is the second-lowest nation in the world after the Maldives.

Most of the tiny island nation is just one metre above the high-tide mark and could become another casualty of global warming by 2050 due to shoreline erosion and salt contamination of the soil.

Kiribati, an island nation of 33 atolls and 100,000 people, is also struggling to deal with the multifaceted effects of human-induced global warming.

Villages have already had to relocate to higher grounds, islands are shrinking, coconut palms are dying and saltbushes are taking over, replacing life-giving vegetation.

Action and advocacy

Maclellan told GLW that relocation and displacement is not uncommon for Pacific Islanders due to environmental reasons. He cited the 1985 evacuation of Marshall Islanders because of nuclear testing or relocation of people from Kiribati’s Banaba island to the Fijian island of Rabi because of heavy phosphate mining.

“There is a lot of concern [among Pacific Islanders] if some of the worst case scenarios for climate impacts for extreme weather events and rising sea level rise come true, but people don’t want to move because land is tied to not only economy but questions of cultural identity”, Maclellan told GLW.

“Sometimes talking about climate refugees makes it sound like Pacific Islanders are sitting there waiting to suffer their fate. Actually it has been in Australia where people are just developing consciousness about the particular vulnerably of our region”.

According to Maclellan it is critical to recognise Pacific Islanders are actors not just victims in this process. “In countries like Tuvalu and the Cook Islands there are climate action networks. These are networks of community, church and women’s organisations, working to raise awareness about what climate change will mean for people generally”, he commented.

Pacific Islander nations have been very proactive for decades on the issue of global warming. The 1989 Small States Conference on Sea Level Rise held in Male, the capital of the Maldives, paved the way for the formation of an action group, which later became the Alliance of Small Island States at the Geneva Second World Climate Conference in 1990.

The “Male declaration” from the 1989 conference was critical in bringing the environmental vulnerability of small island states into the international arena.

Caribbean, Pacific and Indian Ocean states highlighted the dire threat of global warming to their countries at a range of meetings and conferences, such as the 1992 UN Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro and the 1994 Barbados conference for Small Island Developing states.

In 2002, Tomasi Puapua, governor general of Tuvalu, addressed the 57th session of the UN General Assembly and pleaded for all industrialised countries to urgently ratify and fully implement the Kyoto Protocol. He reiterated the desire of Tuvaluan people to remain permanently as a nation on their islands.

Maclellan, who worked as a journalist at the Pacific Islands Forum in 1997 in Rarotonga, told GLW that member countries — which included Australia, New Zealand and fourteen South Pacific island states —, discussed adopting a common position to take to the UN.

“The incoming Howard government blocked that consensus; refusing to support the common position calling on industrialised nations to take further action through the Kyoto Protocol. So there has been that lost decade within Australia where people have not been picking up the voices from the Pacific”, Maclellan said.

Pacific governments and communities are increasingly looking at renewable technology as a solution to climate change along with the problems of rising fuel costs, Maclellan emphasised.

“The Kiribati solar electric company, with funding from Europe, is involved in a major program to provide basic solar panel technology to rural households, and for a small monthly price people can have solar generated electricity for basic lighting at nighttime.”

He also explained that the Pacific Energy and Gender Network project aims to distribute solar-powered cookers, which will help reduce unsustainable practices such as the use of firewood for cooking.

Full article at:

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Comment by Ken Sigrah on January 12, 2009 at 6:46am
Thanks Greg for the input. One thing that I really think we should all look at is the fact that even though we have no conomic values now to develop our homeland (Banaba) and even to maintain our ever growing population on both Banaba and Rabi yet these countries ( Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Japan) cannot ignore or deny the fact that they have taken away more than enough from us. Stacey in her article on our forum page wrote:-

These are the facts every Banaban needs to know and the one thing that none of these governments can deny:

• Australian farmers received 66% (or 13.2 million tons) of Banaba phosphate
• New Zealand farmers received 28% (or 5.6 million tons) of Banaba phosphate
• Great Britain received 4% or 800,000 tons of Banaba phosphate at 50% of the price paid by Europeans.
• Revenue from phosphate mining on Banaba relieved Britain of the financial responsibility for administering the Gilbert and Ellice Protectorate (later Colony).
• Banaban phosphate royalties were eventually distributed 85% to the Gilbert and Ellice Islands (now known as the Pacific nations of Kiribati and Tuvalu) and a small 15% to the Banabans.
• While the Japanese murdered 349 people on Banaba during WWII and physically removed the Banabans from their homeland, to which they were not able to freely to return until after the cessation of mining in 1980.

These governments need to ACKNOWLEDGE and RECOGNISE these facts so that we can all finally move on.

All we need now is to put our heads togather and clean up our back yard inorder to move forward.
Teke raoi. Ken
Comment by Itinteang on January 10, 2009 at 1:44pm
Truth is we are of no interest to these developed countries. We are of little or no political and economical value to developed countries like USA, Great Britain etc so why should they waste their time and money on us?


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