21 Jul 2015

Call for legal systems to catch up to climate change

5:16 pm on 21 July 2015

An official with the International Organisation for Migration says legal systems around the world need to recognise the plight of victims of climate change.

This week an i-Kiribati man, Ioane Teitiota, who has been seeking to stay in New Zealand, was refused a legal appeal to a deportation order, after he had claimed he was a climate refugee.

The IOM's George Gigauri, who is based in Papua New Guinea, says refugee status is clearly defined under the Refugee Convention, and as it stands this cannot be applied to climate change victims.

He says they can be climate change migrants or internally displaced people but this points to the need for a new legal framework.

"It doesn't mean that we have to change the Refugee Convention, it just perhaps means that we have to come up with a new, whether it is a regional or a national or even a global convention, that is some sort of a normative instrument that recognises this special category of people. So yes the legal system does need to catch up to this emerging group."

A seawall protecting a home from coastal erosion in Kiribati, climate change.

A seawall protecting a home from coastal erosion in Kiribati Photo: UNDP / Sheryl Ho