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Pacific News Minute: Atoll Nations Meet on Climate Induced Migration

U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

Accepting that sea level rise is happening and getting worse, atoll nations from around the world meet in Kitibati this week to work on plans to migrate when the time comes, a prospect that one participant described as cultural genocide.  More from Neal Conan in the Pacific News Minute.

Akka Rimon, Secretary of Foreign Affairs for Kiribati, described the dilemma: "What do we do, and where do we go, and what do we do from here if the times comes for us to go."

Atoll states like Kiribati, the Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, the Maldives and others face the reality of rising water and creeping salinization. If projections that sea level will increase by another three feet or more this century are accurate, those island states may become uninhabitable.

Plan A, is to go to the UN Conference on Climate Change later this year in Paris to demand a strong and legally binding agreement to limit greenhouse gasses.  Plan B, is to prepare for a world where that doesn't happen, or doesn't happen fast enough.

But ahead of this week's meeting, Tony de Brum, Foreign Minister if the Marshalls, told Radio New Zealand that migration would mean a destruction of culture, language and tradition equivalent to genocide.  He said "We do not think is is fair to spend millions and millions of dollars to save, for example, a lizard that is endangered, and then consider the displacement of people as just acceptable collateral damage from Climate Change."

Foreign Secretary Rimon and others propose a dignified process of migration to Australia and New Zealand, but with little sign that Canberra and Aukland would agree.  Last month, New Zealand expelled a man from Kiribati who claimed refugee status as a climate migrant, but found no support in New Zealand law, and no compassion from politicians unwilling to set a precedent.

Over 36 years with National Public Radio, Neal Conan worked as a correspondent based in New York, Washington, and London; covered wars in the Middle East and Northern Ireland; Olympic Games in Lake Placid and Sarajevo; and a presidential impeachment. He served, at various times, as editor, producer, and executive producer of All Things Considered and may be best known as the long-time host of Talk of the Nation. Now a macadamia nut farmer on Hawaiʻi Island, his "Pacific News Minute" can be heard on HPR Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays.
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