Morgan Godfery: No climate refugees please, we’re New Zealanders

Ioana Teitiota, the Kiribati man seeking climate refugee status in order to avoid being deported from New Zealand, has had his case rejected by the Court of Appeal. He and his family will now have to return to the low-lying islands and deal with the worsening impacts of sea level rise. In a powerful Comment Is Free piece for the Guardian, Morgan Godfery looks at the lack of humanity implicit in the court’s ruling:

The decision reveals — in all its misery — the protection deficit in international law. A judicial decision is an uncodified statement of power relations. Never could there be a more unequal power relationship than here: on one side, the I-Kiribati and their sinking home, on the other the rigid machinery of international law. If Lord Diplock is right, then “law is about man’s duty to his neighbour”. That principle should underpin our approach to climate change and forced migration.

He then echoes Naomi Klein’s call for mass action to compel governments to act:

But the law doesn’t encompass all of our moral obligations. It’s clear that the international system isn’t fit for purpose. Let’s look past it to social resistance and political solutions. Science, as Naomi Klein argues, “is telling us to revolt”. Ordinary people need to put pressure on their governments to deal with climate change displacement. The missing link isn’t some new legal rule, but mass action.

As the news about sea level rise gets worse, with bigger rises looking likely to happen sooner than expected, the prospects for the I-Kiribati and many tens of thousands more in the Pacific are becoming ever more gloomy. In that context, New Zealand’s responsibilities to its neighbours is clear. Godfery’s conclusion is compelling:

The social history of the Pacific is one of migration, from the early Austronesian and Polynesian expansions to the recent European settler migration. How can we say no to refugees when we are all migrants ourselves?

Quite so.

87 thoughts on “Morgan Godfery: No climate refugees please, we’re New Zealanders”

  1. I’m doing research on the legal issues for people displaced by climate change. For citizens of countries like Kiribati, where the state’s entire territory will become uninhabitable, there are solutions better than refugee status. Even if every I-Kiribati person moved to NZ, that’s just 103,000 people who would make up just 2.3% of NZ. So they’d suffer from the “tyranny of the majority” and a refugee-based policy would be – in effect – an assimilation policy. What’s needed are ex-situ statehood options. Legally, this decision was correct. In policy terms, promoting a new definition or type of refugee – a ‘climate refugee’ – is not a holistic solution.

    1. Perhaps you could go into a bit more detail about “ex-situ statehood options”? Presumably you mean creating a new state on land elsewhere. The experience in the Middle East suggests that might be tricky…

  2. There are a few options, all of which have precedents. Before going into them, the obvious point is that all of these options hinge on political negotiation. My point is that these options DO exist and they are better than refugee/assimilation. Here are a couple of examples, in no particular order:

    1. New territory: where one country cedes a relatively small area to (say) Kiribati and therefore Kiribati maintains its own governance completely.

    2. New property (which is different to territory): where one country sells area to (say) Kiribati for relocation. This could be funded (in whole or in part) through the UNFCCC adaptation fund. In this kind of situation, the legal control that (say) Kiribati has over that property would be determined by a bilateral treaty. An example of this is the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, which has property (not territory) in both Malta and Italy and continues as a “sovereign entity” (not “state”). SMOM’s laws have – under authority of the bilateral treaties – certain authority, e.g. tax law.

    3. Lease. The USA (for example) leases land in Cuba and has – via that lease agreement – what amounts to sovereignty. (Hence it can get away with what it does there in Guantanamo Bay.) The risk, though, is that – as a lease – the landlord can always call it in.

    4. Government-in-exile. Think: Tibet, Cambodia.

    In international law, it would be infinitely faster to get a bilateral or regional agreement on a systematic relocation than to get an international agreement on … just about anything. So that’s where I think the focus is.

    Also, there are many levers in international law to apply pressure to potential “host states” like NZ or Australia, most notably (1) their voluntarily-entered into commitments to adaptation (which are unclear, but principles can be reasonably inferred), and (2) the general presumption at international law that states continue (which is a presumption meant to withstand acts of aggression).

    As I say, ultimately it will be political (of course), but why should I-Kiribatis (say) be forced to foresake their constitutional arrangements and their form of democracy – both of which embed local culture and values?

    Anyway, my research has a long way to go, but it’s a topic that’s gaining moment. The International Law Commission has also started looking into this.

    1. Thanks Nathan, that’s very interesting. I wonder if you have considered the prospects for a state that rebuilds itself in place, as a sort of floating island – as was suggested at the last Pacific Islands Forum. Presumably if moored within territorial waters it would be a (relatively) straightforward techno-fix.

      1. It’s a big policy question and I would hazard a guess that part of its attraction is that it deals with some of the ‘tyranny of the majority’ issues that might otherwise arise for I-Kiribatis as immigrants to other countries. As a response to a problem, it has to be compared to other options for responding to the problem, such as migration of individuals and/or the nations-as-a-whole. I haven’t done that comparison, but here are some top-of-mind thoughts.

        If the cost really is limited to $2 billion, then that’s probably cheaper than relocating 103,000 people with all the necessary infrastructure. I’m surprised to see that the Beretitenti of Kiribati is seriously considering the idea (assuming the article fairly represents his thoughts), but something must be making it appear affordable for a tiny developing State. For Kiribati, they will always have territory with its head above water. The highest point is on the island of Banaba, which is 81m above sea level. Remaining near that territory on an artificial structure means they can continue to exploit, manage, protect and trade off their EEZ, as well as maintain community, democratic representation, culture, language, etc.

        In general, though, I think floating islands are a distraction. The costs are massive, so I see them as another wedge between Haves and Have-Nots. I find it hard to believe that a State could survive economically off a quite small artificial structure without substantial land for food production, let alone other economic activity. (The economies of small island states does not thrive from services industries like IT.) And my biggest concern is that such concepts create the delusion that humanity can engineer its way out of mitigating climate change. No, only the super-rich might be able to afford to do that.

  3. There was this guy called Charles Darwin who had this crazy idea that coral atolls would rise as sea levels did.

    I guess this crackpot has had several other ideas that have been accepted or discredited by various facets of society,

      1. Apart from erosion, the first thing that makes some islands uninhabitable is saline pollution of the fresh water bubble. Although this has often been a short term risk with respect to hurricanes, SLR coupled with storms and population pressure can make the condition permanent – This appears to be happening now.

  4. Most of the Pacific islands are protectorates of a larger power who thought that they would get greater power and resources by absorbing them into their territory. With the islands becoming uninhabitable the least we can do is offer those people a home. I would think that we would have a legal obligation to do so.

  5. Even if the current wording of the law makes the decision the correct one that doesn’t mean the refugee legislation is either humane or immutable.

    Laws have to be relevant to the times we live in and one way or another refugee law will have to be re-written to reflect the new realities of climate change.

    1. Agree. And there are two issues here. First of all, New Zealand and any other individual State could have their own, broader definition of “refugee”; the international definition is just a minimum standard. Secondly, if there is going to be any new international rule, we have to think seriously about a range of options, not just a new definition of refugee. Given the current climate around refugees in countries like Australia, the chances of broadening the definition of refugee is probably impossible. That’s another reason why alternatives have to be explored, and why the focus might be better spent on bilateral or regional agreements rather than international.

  6. Yeah I agree with Andy. Below was from a NZherald story I read a while back

    ”Geographer Associate Professor Paul Kench has measured 27 islands where local sea levels have risen 120mm – an average of 2mm a year – over the past 60 years, and found that just four had diminished in size.

    Working with Arthur Webb at the Fiji-based South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission, Kench used historical aerial photographs and high-resolution satellite images to study changes in the land area of the islands.

    They found that the remaining 23 had either stayed the same or grown bigger, according to the research published in a scientific journal, Global and Planetary Change.

  7. The social history of the Pacific is one of migration, from the early Austronesian and Polynesian expansions to the recent European settler migration. How can we say no to refugees when we are all migrants ourselves?

    which logical fallacy is that?
    Polynesian expansion was also about over population.
    Big people aren’t they?

    1. Appeal to Tradition is a fallacy that occurs when it is assumed that something is better or correct simply because it is older, traditional, or “always has been done.” This sort of “reasoning” has the following form:

      X is old or traditional
      Therefore X is correct or better.

  8. “Yeah I agree with Andy.”

    And not surprisingly you’re both wrong.

    I asked Paul Kench over at The Conversation how many of those islands he measured were actually inhabited and got no reply. I can understand why he may want to remain silent on the issue – the islands he measured are mostly uninhabited unpinned islets (see the SkS rebuttal I linked to above, and see the photos in his paper). There don’t appear to be any photos of the islands that are inhabited in the paper (IIRC).

    In other words people don’t live there because (among other reasons) the solid reef foundations which formed as relative sea level fell over the last 4-5000 years (until the 18-19th century) are currently barely above sea level. Storms, or changes in prevailing currents/winds, cause substantial rearrangement of sands/soils on the islets – rendering them unsuitable for habitation.

    Once the solid reef foundations begin to be overtopped by the sea that’s the end for coral atoll dwellers. No amount of coral rubble and sand washing up on mainly uninhabited islets is going to help. Indeed Professor Kench has failed to explain how rubble washing up on the beach is supposed to help elevate houses and roads above rising sea level.

    An SkS rebuttal for this myth is on my to-do list. Professor Kench’s work is not the issue, it’s his misleading public comments and writing that is.

    This climate myth has surely got to be one of the stupidest out there, but there is strong competition.

    1. I wasn’t aware of this issue with the research, but in any case, I still think that the research is important. The main point that I took out of the study was that, whilst size is not changing, that lack of change is a result of accretion on the leeward side and erosion on the windward side of these atolls, rather than an absolute lack of change.

      A problem with such changes is that the erosion impacts on whatever is on that side of the atoll: mangroves, coconut, and human infrastructure. So, as sea level rises and extremes are exaggerated, erosion will hasten, thereby creating negative effects. The accretion on the opposite side of the atoll does not mean that such effects don’t exist. It just means we need to examine and understand the issue with more complexity than “they’re not shrinking so we should throw the baby out with the bathwater”.

      1. I reiterate that there is no issue with the actual research, only the inferences drawn from it. Professor Kench himself falsely reports that this is good news for atoll islanders, but that is transparently absurd.

        1. The only good news (and I absolutely recognise it as “*not very* good news at all”) is that having some terra firma means that states might still be able to assert sovereign rights over the part of their EEZ that extends from that territory. But any claim that the lack of changing to size is good news is, as you say, transparently absurd.

  9. Sounds like Gareth is the sort of two tone environmentalist. Big on things like climate change but blind to population biology. A Marxist paradigm?

    1. JH, this website is about climate science, not population biology. Reducing population is not an answer to climate change. You would require really large reductions in numbers, and / or rates of growth that are unrealistic in every way. This is why intelligent people don’t bother going there.

      1. You would require really large reductions in numbers, and / or rates of growth that are unrealistic in every way. This is why intelligent people don’t bother going there.

        Present population is related to fossil fuel use (urea is made with natural gas, etc,etc)
        The arguments above were about humanity and responsibility, (Kiribati aside) is it the responsibility of (relatively) low population countries to take refugees from overpopulated countries affected by climate change?

      1. The issue is to what degree human problems can be solved by a humanitarian response (i.e sharing problems). Our first duty is to ourselves. Sustainibility has to start somewhere.

      1. Marxist came with a question, however, when it comes to a pro immigration stance, pro refugee stance you need look no further than the Green Party (Jan Logie, Keith Locke, Catherine Delahunty) where there is a watershed of ideas implying that numbers aren’t a problem and sharing the problem is a solution. If numbers aren’t a problem, what is the problem (and solution)?

  10. The Stuff article says that the man’s work visa expired in 2010

    So, he had 4 years to sort something out, whilst living in NZ illegally.
    Residency isn’t that hard to get. Even I got in

  11. Clearly then these so called growing islands are growing in area but are still very low and of little use to anyone.

    Even if a few are growing in height slightly, what happens if the rate of sea level rise increases? Do the sceptics ever think ahead?

    I think an increase in the rate of sea level rise looks inevitable, especially given trends in the Antarctic.

  12. Further more he would need to make a case that climate change is a current threat to him. Very difficult to prove, especially with a growing population in Kiribati.

    1. John C how does a growing population prove climate change is not a threat? This does not prove the islanders are unconcerned about climate change, only that they might make unwise population decisions. If anything it means they have a double threat from population and climate change.

      1. It doesn’t prove anything, but it makes it harder to say Kiribati is no longer a safe place to live. There is no imminent danger so it is a difficult claim.

      2. The fact the Kiribatians population is increasing (0- 14) 38 compared to 20 (NZ) shows they aren’t helping themselves.
        They are exacerbating their position.
        The same thing is happening in NZ where Maori and Pacific Island children suffer from higher levels of poverty but their numbers are growing faster than other groups. The response by expert Anton Blank to such criticism is that it is “unhelpful”.
        Perhaps the 1% have some land up their sleeve – that seems to be the meme in some quaters?


    The largest single threat to the ecology and biodiversity of the planet in the decades to come will be global climate disruption due to the buildup of human-generated greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. People around the world are beginning to address the problem by reducing their carbon footprint through less consumption and better technology. But unsustainable human population growth can overwhelm those efforts, leading us to conclude that we not only need smaller footprints, but fewer feet.

    Portland, Oregon, for example, decreased its combined per-capita residential energy and car driving carbon footprint by 5 percent between 2000 and 2005. During this same period, however, its population grew by 8 percent.

    1. Jh, the planet clearly need to reduce rates of population growth. I was just concerned to note this will never be a sufficient answer of itself, we also need to reduce emissions and consider adaptations.

      Europe’s population is pretty stable, ditto NZ, growth rates in Latin America are falling, but some Asian and African countries have big problems. They are at a very different stage of the demographic transition or suspicious of condoms or family planning etc. It is believed global population will stabilise about 2050 and several billion more than presently. Gulp.

      Should under populated countries take climate refugees? Can of worms there. You have to do what you can, but consider that the country can only handle a certain rate of immigration before it becomes highly inflationary and generally socially destabilising.

  14. Europe’s population is pretty stable, ditto NZ,

    The fact that population growth is government policy seems to fly under the radar.

    Tony Alexander’s view on house prices
    In BNZ Chief Economist Tony Alexander’s weekly overview, Auckland house prices are set to move upwards nicely. Here are his 19 reasons why:
    3. The government is explicitly aiming to grow Auckland’s population as a means of achieving “agglomeration” benefits for economic growth which accrue from high interaction amongst economic players.

    Executive Summary
    Relative to other OECD countries, New Zealand has high rates of population inflow and
    outflow. These are related: there has been a deliberate policy choice since the early
    1990s to more than replace departing New Zealanders with immigrants. Significant
    benefits were anticipated from increasing the number and quality of people working within
    New Zealand’s reformed economy and institutions.

  15. jh, interesting post. Promoting massive immigration into NZ or Auckland is madness. As if bigger means better, well if you look at the wealthiest countries by gdp per capita , bigger is not always better by a long way. Small is beautiful to quote that book.

      1. Nathan Ross,

        I have no objection to immigration or population increases provided the numbers are reasonably small. There is a commonsense argument that we need specialist skills from overseas. I don’t mind what countries people come from.

        We may also ultimately have to take some climate refugees out of common decency and humanity, but a preferred solution would be to avoid global warming in the first place as much as possible.

        I do not agree with very high rates of immigration, and big population increases, to boost “economies of scale”. I think the problems outweigh the benefits. The problems include inflationary pressure and massive rates of social change. We have already seen immigration impacts on pushing up house prices.

        A pure free market in immigration is ludicrous, NZ would be swamped.

        I think the better approach is to make NZ economically efficient by increasing productivity, and having more value added production, and better education systems.

        1. So you know, Kiribati and Tuvalu WILL become uninhabitable within a few decades. There is already enough energy in the climate system to make this inevitable. Avoiding climate change WAS (not “is”) the priority,* but the international community failed to mitigate to an extent that adaptation is required. Indeed, adaptation is not only unavoidable but it is in fact already happening.

          Given that Kiribati’s fresh water and arable land is already being polluted by salt from marine water incursion and the problem will get worse, mass emigration from such countries is inevitable. In my view, arguing that a domestic population policy takes priority over that problem would be grossly inhumane.

          (*I’m not saying that mitigation should stop; that would be patently absurd. I’m saying that it is too late to stop certain impacts so we need adaptation as well as mitigation.)

          1. Are you claiming that.humans could have stopped the natural rate of sea level rise that has been occurring since the end of the last ice age, or stopped the anthropogenic component which we can’t measure yet?

            These questions are obviously important if you are contesting these issues in a court.

            1. According to IPCC AR4, WG1

              Nevertheless, an expert assessment based on modelling and ocean heat content studies suggests that anthropogenic forcing has likely contributed at least one-quarter to one-half of the sea level rise during the second half of the 20th century (see also Woodworth et al., 2004).


              So if we ignore the “ifs” and “mays” and take the worst case, anthropogenic contribution has been since 1950 and only up to half of the SLR can be attributed to human activity.

            2. By the way, if these atolls do become inundated, then I think most people would have the compassion to take them as refugees, regardless of the “blame”.

              Since I am a son of a refugee myself, I am hardly in a position to denounce this

            3. AndyS, well you answer your own question. You started out saying nobody has a clue what component of recent sea level rise is anthropogenic , and have now answered it with about one quarter to one half being anthropogenic.

              I would say those numbers are a significant concern, and all future projections suggest an increase in the basic rate of sea level rise or “anthropogenic” component.

              Please also note your science paper doesn’t change what I said, namely that rates of increase in sea level rise are accelerating since 1890 and also since about 1970. You have a sea level “hockey stick” when put in the context of the last 3000 years.

              Agree with your other comment that common humanity and decency says we should take climate refugees. All kiwis are from immigrants or refugees ultimately.

            4. Isn’t it fascinating how non anthropogenic warming since the last ice age causes little sea level rise, yet an assumed quarter to half of it since 1950 results in a hockey stick?

            5. Andy – “Isn’t it fascinating how non anthropogenic warming since the last ice age causes little sea level rise”

              According to you then “little sea level rise = 100-120 metres” part of it at a rate about 1 metre/century!!!

            6. What is embarrassing?
              Does anyone really believe that sea levels are following a hockey stick shape?

              There is peer reviewed material that says we won’t know by 2020 or later whether sea levels are actually accelerating in rise, and we are supposed to believe at the same time that they are accelerating exponentially

              Unfortunately my stupid pills don’t extend to accepting this.

            7. Noel, if sea levels have been rising at one metre per century, which is about 3 times the current rate, then it contradicts the assertion that today’s rates are unprecedented

            8. In hole: stop digging!

              Now, is it possible to get a ‘hockey stick’ on the end of that? Well, lookee here!

              Recent studies of Roman wells in Caesarea and of Roman piscinae in Italy indicate that sea level stayed fairly constant from a few hundred years AD to a few hundred years ago.

              (From the wikipedia page I got all this from.)

              Now, look back at the comment/s you made above.


            9. Hi Thomas,
              I took a look at your PDF and I can’t see a hockey stick in your SLR graph

              Well, there is one, but it is an extrapolation based on models.
              The data shows a slight increase in late 20th century which appears to be an artifact of calibration issues between tidal gauges and satellite measurements.

              I don’t buy your ” science” which is well past it’s use by date and quite frankly needs chucking in the bin.

              It is a real shame for guys like Naish that have hung their careers on this.

            10. Unprecedented Andy? Who is claiming current sea-level rise is unprecedented? A bit of misdirection from you perhaps?

              Rate of anthropogenic increase in CO2 is described as unprecedented, as is rate of temperature increase and rate of ocean acidification both of which follow from the first.

              SLR has big lags. We do know that last time sea level was a fair bit higher than the present CO2 was a mere 300 ppm compared to our present 400 ppm. That’s not an inconsistency, rather it represents an unprecedented rate of rise in CO2 that will gather in very long term effects as the planet seeks a new equilibrium state.

              We see now that we have to contend not only with thermal expansion of the ocean, and glacial melting at last considered by the IPCC, but also the unstoppable melting of 6 antarctic glaciers not considered by the IPCC. This is happening within a lengthy period wherein non-anthropogenic drivers of climate change are absent on any significant scale.

              We know too of another tipping point affecting SLR, Greenland melting so although there is no way that currrent rates of SLR are unprecedented, it is probable, if we find no way of pulling back greenhouse gasses, that rate of SLR, and sea level increase will eventually be unprecedented too within the period of human habitation of this planet (a very short period geologically)

            11. Noel, you make the statement that No one is saying SLR rates are unprecedented, yet the comment directly below from Rob links to an SKS article that makes exactly this claim.

            12. This is such a good example of what we are up against I just thought I’d run it again:

              Isn’t it fascinating how non anthropogenic warming since the last ice age causes little sea level rise, yet an assumed quarter to half of it since 1950 results in a hockey stick?

              Ask yourself, Dear Reader; just why would anyone this casually and recklessly uncomprehending feel he has the right to throw his weight around in a scientific debate where the stakes are so remarkably high?

              And do the bulk of his (albeit very noisy) fellow-travellers really have any better grasp of the real issues?

              Are they really trying to understand what’s going on, do you think, or did they just rush to a preconceived judgement, believing whatever is most convenient for them ideologically?

              Most importanly; is your future really being shaped permanently by the such as these? For real, and right now?

              This is not a game.

            13. Bill, if you feel that my questions are morally questionable, perhaps you can explain to us how sea level rise not be unprecedented and get display a hockey stick shape at the same time.

              This I find a little hard to get my puny mind around.

            14. Who said anything about ‘morally’? Have you ever had your reading comprehension tested?

              The fact that you’re still apparently unaware of how comprehensively your arse has just been kicked – I invite readers to review your performance above, and the responses inline and below – also speaks volumes.

            15. Yes I am unaware how I am getting my arse has been kicked (I appreciate the English spelling by the way,)

              I am however aware of how my brain is being kicked by trying to absorb all these logically inconsistent statements

            16. Yes Andy, since you feign amnesia over having your proverbial kicked (perhaps the shock wave traveled all the way to the straw filled golliwog’s head?) have a another look at that Page 13 in:
              You might note (as the rest of us do) that the slide cites data from 2013 (how you can call this outdated is anybodies guess). But further, you claim that the ‘Hockey Stick’ shape is the product of projections. Well, if you just were to look at the data – you know records taken, not projections – from 1700 to 2013 – well, it seems obvious that the SLR rate is increasing and beginning to show that familiar Hockey Stick shape. The graph further gives SLR rates you see, from less than 1mm/year before the Industrial revolution to 3.2mm/y today.
              Now if we listen to the latest science from both poles, Antarctica in particular, it takes not much more than middle school logic to see why the climate science community draws the future of SLR as a steepening Hockey Stick. And you know, the IPCC has been very conservative in this regard.

              Andy, we know you do not buy what science says, if it goes against the dunderhead beliefs of the NZ neo-liberal circus clowns of the ACT party and associated ‘Clingons….’
              But who gives a toss really if you Andy do not ‘buy the science’. The voters do not ‘buy ACT’ either…. nor any of the silly beliefs that drive their prejudices on matters of science.
              So if the behind hurts after a kick and you do not feel it, perhaps see a brain surgeon…

            17. Thanks for your content free response Thomas

              The issues I have are this

              1. Noel Fuller claims that no one claims that SLR is unprecedented.
              2. Rob Painting via SKS claims that SLR is unprecedented
              3. You claim that SLR is accelerating and therefore must be a hockey stick. How is is so? Is all acceleration a hockey stick?
              4. The satellite data and tidal gauge data differ. This appears to be a calibration issue, possibly due to the earth geometric model used in the satellite calculations. To infer that SLR is increasing by averaging the tidal data and sat. data over different time windows is basically wrong.

              If you have issues with my issues, I am all ears.

            18. Really Andy! I had Rob’s link open before me when I said that no one is claiming current sea level rise is unprecedented. Now your statement had no qualifier such as “10,000 years” , . I am at present unable to view the video which Rob was summarizing so I do not know the justification for the figure of 10,000 ybp. However, comparing several graphs of SLR during the deglaciation it seems to me the statement would have been true for just under 8,000 ybp. Before that time for the previous 2000 years I get 9-16 mm/year during which period sea-level rose nearly 60 meters. But so-what? Your original assertion mentioned no limits and could not be true.

              Given the difference in GHGs I can only see acceleration of SLR for some time to come if we cannot draw GHG levels back from where they are now let alone stop raising them.

            19. Noel – watch the video when/if you get the chance. It’s very enlightening.

              For more detail see my SkS post:
              Sea Level Isn’t Level: Ocean Siphoning, Levered Continents and the Holocene Sea Level Highstand.

              Short version: sea level accelerated coming out of the last ice age due to orbital factors and the disintegration of the vast Northern Hemisphere ice sheets. It slowed once the orbitally-enforced warming passed its peak, and the increase in ocean volume then ground to a halt some 4-5000 years ago. It appears to have got going again in the 18-19th century and the ocean volume has been increasing ever since.

            20. Thanks Rob. Although I knew orbital forcing had a lot to do with that deglaciation I had not thought it through sufficiently. An apparent inconsistency usually means something else has to be considered as well, and that is always interesting.

          2. Nathan Ross, I agree even current sea level trends don’t look good for these islands, and sea level rise is likely to accelerate. We have to do something, on moral grounds.

            I’m sure we could take plenty of people, but they are unskilled and poorly educated and we may have to share the load with other countries.

            1. Perhaps there’s a way of meeting both (say) NZ’s and Kiribati’s objectives, e.g. if I-Kiribati people want to stay together, then they could all move to NZ (say) and the relocation and social and other infrastructure could be funded via the international Adaptation Fund, or something of that sort. Anyway, I’m just thinking out loud here. I’m glad you shared your concern. It’s definitely something that needs to be borne in mind. Cheers.

          3. Nathan Ross. What is your position on the demographics of Kiribati?
            Do you think welfare should be dependant on the number of children or a set amount per family?

            1. First of all, I subscribe to the I=PAT equation and therefore agree that population can be problematic.

              As to your specific question, do I think welfare should be dependent on the number of children or a set amount per family? That has some old economic assumptions that are outdated, i.e. (1) that people have perfect access to information and know that their family planning would have direct economic consequences; AND (2) that people will make economically rational decisions; they will respond rationally to incentives.

              On the first assumption regarding information, there are numerous reasons why perfect information is unavailable in Kiribati. For example, (i) the population is spread across 33 atolls and islands, (ii) only about 4% of I-Kiribatis have internet at home and only about 15% of I-Kiribatis use the internet regularly; and (iii) as the poorest country in the Pacific, it is an enormous leap to assume that government has the resources to ensure people have access to perfect information.

              On the second assumption regarding response to incentives, that’s clearly an erroneous generalisation that modern economists reject or at least qualify. For example, why would someone replace a one year old iPad with a new version? People make irrational decisions. with respect to their welfare. Furthermore, you’re dealing with evolutionary biology and the “selfish gene”: people – like all other living things – instinctively want their genes to carry on. So, even if they know about some punishment via welfare, it certainly won’t stop many people from having the family they think they want.

              So, the real outcome of tying welfare to family planning is to punish parents AND their children for having imperfect information and instincts.

              I’m not a population specialist, so I can’t say what options I’d prefer, but – from a policy perspective – the approach laid out in your question is based on flawed assumptions that will lead to perverse outcomes. So, no, I do not support that kind of policy approach.

            2. I don’t think you’d get a high mark for that explanation. Are you saying the people of Kiribati can’t see a relationship between available land and increasing population?

            3. I’ve simply tried to give you an objective and reasonably comprehensive response. If you disagree, fine, but jibes like “I don’t think you’d get a high mark” don’t contribute anything.

              No, I didn’t say I-Kiribati people can’t see such a relationship. You’re drawing inferences from somewhere other than my words.

              If you expect that people would respond well to incentives, i.e. to welfare rules, then why wouldn’t they also respond well to the incentives imposed by the limits of natural resources? The answer is because there are many drivers for people’s and societies’ reproductive patterns.

              What is patently obvious to me is that punishing children for decisions of their parents by reducing the family’s social security support is grossly unethical and inhumane, and it would never have the support of the public to be legislated.

              This is the last post I’ll make about population here.

  16. Small island communities, if isolated, become non-viable, genetically, socially, technically and in resiliance – recovery from huricanes, pestlence, famines, over-population. For millenia the solution has been interaction via voyaging, hence the development and maintenance of navigation lore. The cultural ethic if you like is that an island population decimated by a natural disaster is rehabilitated from other islands likely unaffected. When Europeans asserted management they banned these inter-island voyages as unsafe although “accidental” voyaging did continue, and I suspect still does. I recall David Lewis navigating a catamaran, Rehu Moana, from Tahiti to New Zealand via polynesian navigation methods making landfall about 30 miles from his objective. Also onboard was a western style navigator whose observations remained secret during the voyage. Lewis never deviated far from the optimum course. That aside, the important point is that the viability of many Pacific Island populations rests on interaction and mutual assistance. This ethic remains except much aid and interaction is now centered in Auckland via those islanders settled here. All of polynesia, plus Fiji and Kiribati and most other pacific islands are represented in NZ, chiefly in Auckland. At times I have only to step to the end of my drive to see visible evidence of aid being gathered and despatched to Samoa for instance. Several groups from Kiribati are resident in NZ, one in West Auckland another up the East coast a bit but still within the super-city, a third in Wellington. Kiribati has also bought land in Fiji against future relocation. In fact Kiribati has been leading in raising the issues of SLR relative to island states and exploring possible answers, which I suspect is evident In Nathan Ross relating some issues he is researching, in posts above, to Kiribati..

    1. So overpopulation is something that has always been solved by going to other uninhabited islands? Someone’s going to have to rewrite population biology.

      1. Explain – “always” is a bit much. I suspect people prefer to stay where they are most of the time, Then there are wars and forced relocations and of course alluring New Zealand,

        When I used the terms ‘genetically, socially’ above I was trying to recall a study I read (can’t remember the name but it is in the Auckland museum) that focussed on voyaging and kinship groups operating across a group of islands. There were a few pages of inspirational writing to suck one in and then a large dissertation on the functioning of kinship groups. It was set in the Gilbert and Ellice Islands, now Kiribati, if I’ve got it right.

  17. Irrespective of past drivers for and patterns of migration, the reality is that people will need to migrate en masse. The responsibility of developed, carbon-polluting nations is to provide resources and to work with affected nations to develop a suite of options for how that might happen.

    Without good options available to them, the developed nations are imposing yet more unfair burdens: the imposition of splintering and cultural assimilation (or at least a very high risk of those outcomes). Options that have those effects might be chosen by the affected people, but – in the spirit of self-determination and state sovereignty (core principles of international law) – they shouldn’t be imposed by third party states.

  18. I’m having trouble reconciling you linking this claim:

    “As the news about sea level rise gets worse, with bigger rises looking likely to happen sooner than expected,”

    To a post containing this point:

    “That would add over 3 metres to future sea level, although Joughin et al find that Thwaites collapse is likely some way off in the future.”

    1. Hi Andrew,

      I’m making two points, somewhat loosely.

      The first is that as time goes by, our expectations of the quantum of SLR increases – i.e. from AR4 to AR5, and as our understanding of ice sheet vulnerabilities develops. The news from Antarctica now suggests that multi-metre SLR is now unavoidable

      The second is that the timescale for significant increases has also shortened. The Joughin et al paper attempts to put some sort of timescale on Thwaites mass loss, but the authors only considered one future scenario – one that was far from worst case – and with a relatively crude model of the glacier. With better modelling of the effects of continued (and increasing) warming on Thwaites & PIG the timing of multi-metre rises could well move much closer to present.

  19. The important thing about sea level rise is if you look at the data for the last 100 years the data fits to a curve, so is accelerating. Even if you just project this trend there is significant sea level rise and it’s hard to see any reason why this trend would flatten. There has been no slowdown in rates of glacier melt or heat energy absorption in the oceans. Not on significant timescales.

    The trend can only really increase or accelerate even further.

    I caught a report on Campbell Live on NZs glaciers, well worth a watch. There won’t be many left at current rates of retreat.

  20. When I was growing up population was the bogey. Now it is greed and over consumption by rich countries (as if poor countries wouldn’t behave exactly the same when they get the chance).
    Reading the comments above I see apologists for overpopulation (in the face of the obvious) and (as usual) nuances of blame on the west (capitalists, colonisers etc etc).

  21. Kiribati: Tiny island’s struggle with overpopulation
    “One way to deal with the problems created by increasing populations may be a return to the old way of life, suggests Tabao Awaerika, secretary to Kiribati’s president.
    “It’s like taking a step back into our history – but it’s very difficult to do that,” he explains.

    “We had this thought of getting people to eat babai, it’s a local food crop like taro, but it takes about four hours to cook. Breadfruit is about an hour – rice is easier to cook, nicer and cheaper. So why do it?

    “We need a total change of mindset. To encourage sustainable activity on outer islands so they don’t need to come to Tarawa.”

    However, persuading more people not to come could be difficult.

    Artan Rajit, the deputy mayor of nearby Abaiang – a greener, more spacious island with a population of under 10,000 – says simply: “We want what they have in Tarawa.”

    For people enduring a near subsistence lifestyle on Kiribati’s outer islands, accepting the overcrowding and polluted environment seems a worthwhile price to pay for the vibrancy of South Tarawa, with its few shops, access to imported food, tinned meat and rice and medical centres.

    Despite the pot-holed road and decrepit vehicles, there is also the potential for paid employment – though only around 20% of the population have full-time, paid jobs. ”

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