‘Climate change refugee’ appeal denied by New Zealand court

21 Jul 2015

A man from Kiribati, a central Pacific Island nation, has lost his appeal in New Zealand that, if passed, would have seen him become the world’s first climate change refugee.

Ioane Teitiota has been living in New Zealand since 2007, before coming to police attention for a traffic violation back in 2011.

He had argued that he could not go back to Kiribati because of rising sea levels, which are threatening the island’s very existence, reportedly destroying crops and contaminating the water supply.

Teitiota, who now faces deportation with his wife and children – all of whom were born in New Zealand – claimed it was unsafe for him to go home.

In its ruling, the Supreme Court of New Zealand responded to his claims by stating that there was no immediate threat that could cover he and his family under international refugee laws.

“Teitiota does not, if returned, face serious harm and there is no evidence that the government of Kiribati is failing to take steps to protect its citizens from the effects of environmental degradation to the extent that it can,” it said.

The court didn’t rule out climate change refugees entirely, claiming its decision should not be taken as ruling out the possibility of people being granted refugee status due to environmental degradation or climate change in the future.

This was Teitiota’s final arena in which to plead his case.

Kiribati has a population of around 100,000 across its various islands and such is the worry of rising sea levels that it purchased land on Fiji, to act as a farm for Kiribati if salt-water pollution means the former British colony can no longer produce crops.

Image of Kiribati, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic