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June 27th, 2008:

We’ve Been Blogged

Clear The Air’s News Blog has recently been reviewed by the editors of A big congrats goes out to our webmaster (that would be me) for putting together such a ‘great’ blog and keeping it up to date to achieve a score of 8.4 out of (10) in the Society category of

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Our News Blog was evaluated based on the following criteria: Frequency of Updates, Relevance of Content, Site Design, and Writing Style.

After carefully reviewing each of these criteria, our site was given its 8.4 score.

Climate Change and Refugees

Flood of refugees

Updated on Jun 27, 2008 – SCMP

If we thought that tackling global warming meant only signing and adhering to agreements to cut emissions of the pollutants that are causing temperatures to rise, we have been misled. Climate change is about much more, as ballooning food and fuel prices prove – as does an as-worrying facet highlighted by leaders of the Pacific island nation of Kiribati.

President Anote Tong led a delegation to Australia last week to secure a place for his country’s people to live, should international climate change measures fail. He has to hedge his bets – the 33 islands he heads will be under water come the end of the century if polar ice and glaciers do not stop melting at present rates.

Mr Tong got encouraging words from Australia’s new Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and Climate Change Minister Penny Wong. They made no promises despite Kiribati having only 105,000 inhabitants: Australia, at least under the previous John Howard government, did not readily welcome displaced people.

There were 11.4 million people in UN refugee camps last year and only 49,900 found their way to third countries. But there is an even bigger problem for countries threatened by climate change: people fleeing conflict or persecution can hope to one day return to their homes; those from nations drowned by rising seas cannot.

New Zealand has promised to take the citizens of another threatened Pacific nation, Tuvalu, which has just 12,000 people. Should Australia decline, Kiribati may find New Zealand and refugee-friendly Canada and the US more accommodating.

Such deals should not be viewed as a solution, Australia-based climate change scientist Donna Green told me. Rather, she contended, the matter should be one for the world as a whole.

Mr Tong is getting in early because he knows there will be stiff competition. In the Pacific, some islands in Fiji, the Marshall Islands and Vanuatu also lie a metre or so above the high-tide mark. There has already been a precedent in Papua New Guinea, where residents of the even-lower-lying Carteret Islands have been relocated to nearby Bougainville.

But the nation that could have the biggest impact is Bangladesh. Should predictions of sea-level rises of 14cm to 32cm by 2050 be dramatically exceeded, perhaps 20 million Bangladeshis will need another country in which to live. Floods and other weather-related disasters over the past two decades have already prompted 10 million citizens to migrate to neighbouring India.

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies believes that there are more people in the world who have fled because of climate change than there are UN refugees. Other non-governmental groups have put the figure at up to 50 million and believe it could be up to 250 million by 2050. The numbers remain a guess as there is no internationally recognised term for a person forced from their home by global warming.

Doing so would seem simple; the definition of a refugee under the 1951 Geneva Conventions could be broadened beyond the meaning of a person fleeing violence or persecution to include the environment. Human-rights lawyers object, arguing that this would erode the rights of asylum seekers.

But, getting a term in place and protecting such people under international law was urgently needed, said Dr Green, of the University of New South Wales. Piecemeal and ad hoc arrangements like those being sought by Kiribati were not the best solution to what may become a major factor in mass migration, she said. An international institution would be better “to identify the regions most at risk and prioritise and plan relocation options”.

The paradox of climate change is that the nations most at risk tend not to have caused the problem. Industrialisation on Pacific islands is minimal; Bangladesh accounts for just 0.02 per cent of world emissions of greenhouse gases.

This makes it straightforward to decide where to relocate people forced from their homes by global warming. The nations that, over the decades, have caused the most pollution – the US and European countries foremost – should put out welcome mats.

Peter Kammerer is the Post’s foreign editor