Islander’s bid to be climate change refugee fails

A Pacific islander whose homeland is threatened by rising seas failed in an attempt to become the world’s first climate change refugee, with a New Zealand judge dismissing his case as “novel” but “unconvincing”.

Lawyers for Ioane Teitiota, 37, argued New Zealand should not deport him even though his visa had expired, because climate change was gradually destroying his low-lying home in Kiribati.

The difficulties Teitiota and his family would face in the tiny nation — which consists of about 30 atolls, most only a few metres above sea level — meant they should be recognised as refugees, the lawyers said.

Ruling yesterday, High Court judge John Priestley acknowledged Kiribati was suffering environmental degradation attributable to climate change.

But he said millions of other people in low-lying countries were in a similar situation.

Priestley said the UN Refugee Convention stated that a refugee must fear persecution if they returned home, a criteria Teitiota did not meet.

The judge rejected the argument that he was being “persecuted passively” by the environment because climate change was a threat the Kiribati government was powerless to control.


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