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Transcript of joint interview: SBS, World View: 26 November 2010: the impact of climate changon on Pacific Island nations

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The Hon Richard Marles MP Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs

Interview on SBS "World View"

Subjects: The impact of Climate Change on Pacific Island nations.

Transcript, E&OE

26 November 2010

• Phil Glendenning, Director, Edmund Rice Centre; • Richard Marles, Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs; • Teresa Gambaro, Opposition spokeswoman on International Development Assistance • Mary Anne Kenny, Murdoch University

COMPERE: Countries directly affected by rising seas include islands in the Pacific and the Torres Strait as well as low-lying coastal areas of South and South-East Asia and Alaska. The Sydney-based Edmund Rice Centre says unless a binding international agreement is reached at the Global Climate Summit in Mexico next week, residents of some of these areas may soon be forced to flee. Centre director, Phil Glendenning, recently visited the Pacific Island nation of Kiribati where he says residents are already feeling the effects from rising oceans.

PHIL GLENDENNING: It's not something that's going to happen in 30 or 40 years' time; it is happening there now. We saw, you know, villages that have had to be relocated. You can see areas where the seawater is inundating the supplies of food-growing areas and where the saltwater is inundating also parts of the freshwater table.

So it's increasingly difficult for them.

COMPERE: Some Islanders have called on Pacific neighbours such as Australia and New Zealand to take those displaced by climate change as refugees. New Zealand allows up to 400 citizens of Kiribati, Tuvalu and Tonga to be granted residence each year. However, in Australia, both the major political parties have so far rejected the idea of climate change refugees.

The Parliamentary Secretary for Pacific Island Affairs, Richard Marles, says the Government sees the likelihood of a mass displacement of people due to rising sea levels as decades away. Mr Marles says the Australian Government's focusing on mitigating the effects of global warming in order to minimise the displacement of Islanders.

RICHARD MARLES: An example of that is water supply in the coral atolls such as Kiribati and Tuvalu. In Tuvalu, we've already provided 576 additional water tanks to help water collection in that country. So that's a really good example of hands-on climate change adaptation. But there are other initiatives around upgrading sea level monitoring stations within the Pacific countries to get an accurate sense of what's actually happening with sea level rises and looking at the agricultural side of things - and in saying that I'd include fisheries - so there is some planning for the future of food supply within those countries based on what climate change may occur.

COMPERE: The Opposition spokeswoman on International Development Assistance, Teresa Gambaro, says the Coalition does not recognise so-called climate change refugees. Ms Gambaro says the Coalition also supports adaptation and mitigation such as helping Islanders to ensure infrastructure and water distribution systems are designed to withstand the effects of climate change. She says relocation should be the last resort.

TERESA GAMBARO: We take 13,500 refugees each year, as defined by the Convention. What we're saying is that we need to consult directly with affected populations. And clearly the issues of human rights in terms of climate change, development, sustainable communities, are the sorts of things that we need to help people in-country.

The last resort is relocating people from any country. We would prefer to work with them in-country to help address some of these changes in, for example, you know, increasing urbanisation and also natural disasters.

COMPERE: Currently there's no international legal framework that specifically addresses so-called climate change refugees. The 1951 United Nations Refugee Convention provides protection for those who flee their homelands because they're persecuted for a political

opinion, membership of a particular group or for their race or religion. Murdoch University lecturer and refugee lawyer, Mary Anne Kenny, believes there's a need for the Convention to be widened to cover those forced to flee because of climate change. But she says attempts to broaden the definition of a refugee have been resisted by some countries.

MARY ANNE KENNY: Once you do get the status of a refugee, it means that if you go to another country they must provide you with some kind of protection, and states are generally resistant to take on those sorts of obligations. So it's very unlikely you'll find countries wanting to extend their legal obligations to cover people who are fleeing because of natural disaster. So it really has to be something that the global community takes responsibility for because people will be moving because of climate change problems, and these are more likely to occur in developing nations. So they'll go from one place to another where their resources are stretched. So the developed nations have to sort of pitch in, I think, and try and contribute and take their fair share of the burden.

COMPERE: However, the Edmund Rice Centre's Phil Glendenning says the people of Kiribati do not want to be seen as refugees. He says the world must take urgent action to prevent their homeland and their culture being lost forever.

PHIL GLENDENNING: The people of Kiribati have been living there for thousands of years. They are the great navigators of the sea. Their culture is rich in song and music and dance, and for any of that to be lost would be a loss to all of us. And after all, it's where the

day begins every day on Earth. It's where the sun comes up first. Any loss of that culture and

its people would be a massive loss to us, and that's why this is urgent. Fundamental action is needed now.


Media inquiries

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