Highlighting Displacement in the Context of Disasters and the Effects of Climate Change

Nansen 1After the 'Prevent, Prepare, and Resond:  Displacement inthe context of disasters and the effects of climate change' event during the Third International Conference on Small Islands Developing States.

3 September 2014, Apia, Samoa -
For centuries, war, famine and persecution have resulted in the forced movement of populations both within national borders and across them. Generally, people who become displaced within their own countries are covered by national laws, international human rights law, the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internally Displaced Persons and other regional instruments.

Unfortunately there is a serious legal gap with regard to people who are forced to leave their countries because of extreme weather events, rising sea levels or drought.

A recent side event at the Third United Nations Conference on Small Island Developing States (SIDS) in Apia brought together stakeholders from around the globe to discuss the issue of displacement and climate change.

The issue is particularly pertinent to those small island developing states that are at the front line of climate change. These low lying atolls including Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Maldives already face the very real prospect of having their people becoming the world's first displaced persons from the effects of climate change.

The event was hosted by the Norwegian State Secretary, Mr Hans Brattskar, with the Switzerland Ambassador to the Philippines, Ambassador Ivo Sieber and organised by the Nansen Initiative - a state-led consultative process to build consensus on a protection agenda addressing the needs of people displaced across borders in the context of disasters and the effects of climate change.

Mr David Sheppard, Director General of the Secretariat of the Pacific Regional Environment Programme (SPREP), had the opportunity to participate in the discussion - specifically with regard to the significant body of work that the Secretariat has undertaken in climate change adaptation.

Talking about some of the challenges and opportunities for adaptation to the existing and anticipated climate change and disaster impacts in the Pacific, Mr Sheppard highlighted the importance of national planning for disaster and climate change risk reduction as well as partnerships, sustainable finance and information sharing.

"The Pacific Adaptation to Climate Change (PACC) project, the first regional adaptation programme, is in the process of wrapping up after five successful years. A key priority of this important project, implemented by SPREP, has been to strengthen the resilience of Pacific communities to a changing climate ".

Senior Policy Adviser for the Government of Kiribati, Mr Andrew Teem, talked to delegates about the Kiribati Government's policy of 'migration with dignity':

"You have to understand that we're coming from a position where we accept the science.  We accept the fact that we are eventually, going to have to leave Kiribati.  Any government that fully recognises that there will be a threat to its people in the future and does nothing, is not a good government.  Migration with dignity recognises the choice of the individual.  We are trying to ensure that those who migrate can add value to the country where they choose to go."

To support this policy, projects such as the Australian Government funded Kiribati Technical  Vocation and Training Sector Strengthening Project (TVETSPP) are working to build capacity in the TVET eductaion sector in Kiribati so that graduates can obtain qualifications that are accepted internationally - should they choose to leave Kiribati.

Commenting on the issue of displacement, Mr Sheppard explained:

"With regard to human mobility SPREP believes that these decisions are entirely up to national governments. Our focus, meanwhile, will be on strengthening resilience through adaptation, climate change mitigation and other measures. To this end, SPREP is  happy  to partner with The Nansen Initiative and we are pleased to host a secondment from the Norwegian Refugee Council to work specifically on the issues of human mobility in the context of climate change.  We very much look forward to continuing our work together in support of our Pacific member countries."
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