Mr. Jeem Lippwe,
Charge d'Affaires, a.i.
Federated States of Micronesia
on behalf of the
Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS)
IPI Policy Forum:
Monitoring Disaster Displacement in the Context of Climate Change
New York, 2 November 2009
Check Against Delivery
I have the honour to speak today on behalf of the Alliance of Small Island States. I would like to thank the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, the Norwegian Refugee Council and the International Peace Institute for organising this event and for inviting a representative of AOSIS to be on the panel.
The AOSIS members are amongst the most vulnerable countries in the world to the impacts of climate change. We are already experiencing disaster displacement related to climate change in our countries and the prospect for the future is particularly alarming for some of the low-lying islands. Unless there is urgent action on mitigation, the impacts of climate change will lead to not only forced displacement both internally and across international borders, but it may lead to the loss of entire island nations. For these reasons, we welcome this event and the opportunity to contribute to the discussion.
In the small island states there are several interrelated impacts of climate change that lead to displacement. Today I will highlight some of the most sever impacts of climate change and how they lead to displacement in AOSIS countries.
First, climate change in undermining water security in small island states. The IPCC Technical Paper on Climate Change and Water (2008) states that "[o]bservational records and climate projections provide abundant evidence that freshwater resources are vulnerable and have the potential to be strongly impacted by climate change, with wide-ranging consequences for human societies and ecosystems." Saltwater intrusion into freshwater supplies has already caused severe freshwater shortages in a number of low-lying islands. Reduction in precipitation is also impacting on freshwater availability. Without adequate mitigation, all small islands will be affected and many islands in the Caribbean and Pacific are likely to experience increased water stress as a result of declines in projected summer rainfall.
Secondly, climate change in undermining food security. All low-lying island states face a high threat to agriculture from climate change due to increased inundations, erosion and saltwater intrusions. Additionally, coral bleaching and ocean acidification is destroying the marine ecosystems on which many small islands depend on for the vast majority of protein intake.
Thirdly, not only will food and water security be diminished in many small island states, but overall environmental security will be degraded. Mass loss of biodiversity and natural resources could strip the populations of small island states of the natural resource base upon which they depend on for subsistence, livelihood, development and trade.
Displacement is a well known response when available resources are not sufficient for basic human needs. The OCHA and IDMC Study identifies that further research into the scale of displacement from slow-onset disasters, such as the loss of natural resource security is needed in order to improve the response for the people displaced.
Fourthly, sudden-onset climate-related disaster or hazard events are a major concern for small island states. We are distressed, although not surprised, at the finding in the OCHA and IDMC Study that climate-related disasters were responsible for displacing approximately 20 million people in 2008, including in many small islands states such as Papua New Guinea, Cuba and Haiti.
Storms have been identified as one of the major-drivers of disaster-related displacement. In the North Atlantic and western North Pacific tropical storm lifetime and intensity has significantly increased since 1970. This has caused considerable damage in the Pacific and Caribbean and is only set to continue under a business as usual scenario with catastrophic consequences for people living in small islands.
In assessing the impacts of climate change on low-lying island States, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees has commented that "Low-lying island States are thus very likely to be entirely uninhabitable long before their full submersion, causing entire populations and the governments to be externally displaced."
Finally, the impact most people think of when discussing small island states is sea-level rise. The IPCC has confirmed that rising sea-levels are unavoidable. The Fourth Assessment Report predicted sea levels to rise by about half a meter by the end of the century under a business as usual scenario. However, this forecast did not take into account the melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets. Experts now consider that a rise of one meter by 2100 is likely, with a multi-meter rise not out of the question.
Such a result would be devastating for all small island states. More than 50% of the population in the Pacific and Caribbean live within 1.5 km of the shore. In almost all of the small islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the Caribbean international airports, roads and capital cities are sited along the coast, or on tiny coral islands. Sea-level rise will exacerbate inundation, erosion and other coastal hazards, threaten vital infrastructure, settlements and facilities, and thus compromise the socio-economic well-being of island communities and states. The IPCC has indicated that "rapid sea-level rise that inundates islands and coastal settlements is likely to limit adaptation possibilities, with potential options being limited to migration."
The low-lying countries are threatened with total submergence. In the Maldives, 80 per cent of the land is one metre above sea level and could be submerged in the next 30 years. The Cartaret Islands in the Pacific could be submerged as early as 2015. The possibility of total inundation, resulting in the loss of territory, lack of clarity in relation to EEZ boundaries and the risk of statelessness is one of the greatest security threats caused by the impacts of climate change.
Security threats from the impacts of climate change will however, arise before total inundation of islands. The reduction of territorial lands caused by sea-level rise, inundations and erosion, combined with loss of natural resources is recognised as a common denominator for conflict, including violent conflict. Such tensions are only augmented by the displacement of peoples, both internally and externally.
All available evidence leads to the conclusion that the number of people displaced by the impacts of climate change is likely to increase - and that the scale of displacement could be high - potentially affecting the lives millions of people in devastating ways.
There are of course, a number of uncertainties in relation to forced displacement caused by climate change, particularly in relation to the scale of future displacement. The IPCC figure that is often cited is that by 2050 as many as 150 million people may be displaced as a result of the impacts of climate change, predominantly the effects of coastal flooding, shoreline erosion and agricultural disruption. The Stern Review cited a much higher estimate of 200 million people displaced by 2050. While recognising the limitations of the estimate, the Stern Report concluded that this estimate "remains in line with the evidence presented throughout this chapter that climate change will lead to hundreds of millions more people without sufficient water or food to survive or threatened by dangerous floods and increased disease." If the IPCC worst case scenario transpires, then the numbers could be even higher.
The limitations of the science in projecting exact numbers of future displacement should not be used as an excuse for inaction on this issue. The obvious truth is that climate change will impact on the capacity of small islands states to provide the basic means of subsistence for our people, leading to forced displacement on a scale potentially never seen before by the world community.
Further, climate change displacement is already a reality for people in small island states. Internal relocations linked to climate change have already occurred in some of the small island states. For example, the settlement of Lateau, in the northern province of Torba in Vanuatu had to be relocated because of rising sea levels. Further relocations related to climate change have happened in the Federated States of Micronesia, Papua New Guinea, Tuvalu and the Solomon Islands. The international community must recognise this reality and appropriately respond now.
How to respond to what is an extraordinarily complex issue is of course the crucial question. Currently, there is no international legal protection specifically for climate-displaced persons across international borders. The 1951 Convention on the Status of Refugees pertains only to persons persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. According to an analysis by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, some people displaced in relation to the impacts of climate change may be covered by the Refugee Convention, where as others will not be protected. There is little appetite for expanding the Refugee Convention to explicitly cover those displaced by climate change given a fear this risks lowering the protection currently afforded all refugees.
In relation to internal climate change displacement, affected people may qualify as internally displaced persons under the 1998 Guiding Principles of Internal Displacement ("Guiding Principles"). Yet, while we welcome the work of the Special Representative of the Secretary-General on the human rights of internally displaced persons in recognising climate change induced displacement, the Guiding Principles may not be the most appropriate model in relation to the small island states and climate change displacement. Climate change induced displacement can be prevented, if the internationally community finds the political will to uphold the basic human rights of all people and agree to cutting GHG emissions. Climate change induced displacement is of course predominantly caused by the GHG emissions of developed countries - and the victims of the displacement will be in those countries least responsible for the cause. This is the context that must shape the discussion on how to protect people forced to leave their homes through the impacts of climate change.
Additionally, the discussion must be driven by the people affected. Developed countries have created a global crisis based on a flawed system of values. There is no reason we should be forced to accept a solution informed by that same system. Vulnerable communities have been marginalised in international discussions of great import throughout history. This needs to change.
However, in considering how to respond to increased displacement caused by the impacts of climate change we should not rush to create any new agreements. We must first and foremost focus our efforts on preventing such forced migration and providing people of the small islands states the necessary resources to protect the territorial integrity of our island homes, our ability to provide for our own means of subsistence and to protect our unique cultural identity which is shaped by our environment. The totality of consequences of forced migration on the people of small islands states is a devastating prospect.
For the sake of clarity, under no circumstances can efforts to protect climate-displaced people be used as an excuse for inaction on mitigation and adaptation. Climate displacement cannot been seen as a safety valve for a failure in political will, but rather, an option of last resort available only after all good faith efforts at mitigation and adaptation have failed. Our survival is not negotiable.
As AOSIS we have clearly articulated our position for what is needed for mitigation and adaptation. Greenhouse gas emissions must be reduced by 45% by 2020 and 85% by 2050 from 1990 levels so that the atmospheric concentration returns to 350 parts per million carbon dioxide equivalent as quickly as possible. Only then will we have a realistic chance of keeping global temperatures from rising more than 1.5 degrees centigrade above pre-industrial levels. These figures are based on what the science concludes is necessary to protect our island homes. Anything less will fail the most vulnerable countries and shame the entire international community.
In addition, developed countries must honor their commitments to set aside 0.7% of their gross national income for development assistance for developing countries and should commit to providing another 1% of their GNI to developing countries for adaptation and mitigation projects. Developed countries should also share advanced technologies for renewable energy and adaptation without undue intellectual property burdens.
Adopting these proposals would not prevent all climate migration, but it would significantly reduce the scale of the problem. A refugee crisis need not wait until the ocean has entirely swallowed our islands. It could happen as soon as the world takes away our means of providing for food, water and shelter.
Finally, I want to reiterate that climate change is not an "act of God" like an earthquake or tsunami. It is a crisis of human origin. Responding to climate-induced displacement is not about seeking the charity of developed countries. Rather, we demand recompense for the damage that the economic activities of developed countries have caused to our homes. Developed countries have an obligation to act and they have no right to dictate the terms of our salvation. Any discussion on climate change displacement must be underpinned by this fundamental principle.