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Tuvalu PM urges new legal framework for climate migrants

by Megan Rowling | @meganrowling | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Tuesday, 24 May 2016 21:45 GMT

A boy stands on top of a sea-wall near the village of Tangintebu on South Tarawa in the central Pacific island nation of Kiribati May 26, 2013. REUTERS/David Gray

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If Tuvalu goes underwater, "under current international law, we don't have any framework to work from"

By Megan Rowling

ISTANBUL, May 24 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Tuvalu's prime minister on Tuesday called for a U.N. resolution to create legal protection for people displaced by the impacts of climate change, saying there was currently no international framework to protect their rights.

Speaking at the World Humanitarian Summit in Istanbul, where he made the proposal, he told the Thomson Reuters Foundation it was time to start working out how to deal with communities that might have to be moved due to rising seas, water shortages and other threats to their homes.

"Think of a situation where Tuvaluans have to be relocated because no land is there," said Enele Sopoaga, suggesting the low-lying island nation could start disappearing under the waves as the planet warms.

"Under current international law, we don't have any framework to work from," he added.

There was a need for one, he said, "so we can be relocated to elsewhere... but we still can claim our sovereignty rights to our part of the world".

The Refugee Convention does not cover people displaced across borders by environmental degradation or climate-related disasters, and more recent initiatives to address the problem are non-binding.

"We have a real situation on our hands right now - 62,000 people every day are displaced by the impacts of climate change," Sopoaga said. "We are going to see more of that happening, as predicted by science."

He said he supported a push by Pacific small island developing states to appoint a U.N. Special Representative on Climate and Security.


Baron Waqa, the president of Nauru, told the Istanbul summit such a representative should report regularly to the U.N. General Assembly and the U.N. Security Council on emerging climate-related security threats, as well as helping vulnerable countries develop action plans to boost their resilience.

"A new Special Representative... would be a lasting legacy of the World Humanitarian Summit and demonstrate to vulnerable countries and communities that we take seriously one of the greatest security threats of our generation," Waqa said during a roundtable on natural disasters and climate change.

At the session, the treasurer of the Philippines presented a new plan, backed by U.N. agencies and the World Bank, to strengthen the disaster preparedness of 20 vulnerable countries by 2020.

Other initiatives for managing climate and disaster risk also were discussed, including a new business-led forum to increase access to insurance in the most vulnerable countries.

Maarten van Aalst, director of the Red Cross Climate Centre, said the summit had underlined the need for a dramatic shift in how the world manages risk - something already recognised in the new Paris climate change agreement and the Sustainable Development Goals.

"Rather than waiting for disasters to happen, we need to anticipate shocks and stresses, and build resilience especially among the most vulnerable," he said.

He said several commitments had been made at the summit that address that need, such as a Red Cross pledge to double by 2018 its emerging system of putting in place pre-crisis funding triggered by forecasts of weather hazards.

Van Aalst urged the U.N. climate change negotiations to take up the baton of the issues raised in Istanbul.

"Many of these challenges cannot be addressed by the humanitarian community alone," he added.

(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Laurie Goering. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)

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