Ioane Teitiota overstayed his visa in New Zealand in 2011 and faced deportation. However, he launched a legal appeal, claiming that his homeland – the Pacific island nation of Kiribati – was threatened by rising sea-levels.

Kiribati’s land averages little more than six feet above sea level and is one of the most vulnerable nations in the world to rising sea levels, driven by climate change. Sea levels are expected to rise between 2.5-6.5 feet by the end of the century, putting much of Kiribati underwater.

However, Teitiota’s appeals have been rejected throughout the New Zealand judicial system, with the Supreme Court ruling against him in July. Earlier courts called Teitiota’s argument ‘novel but unconvincing’, adding that millions in low-lying countries faced a similar plight.

Mass migration

Teitiota’s  argument – and the New Zealand courts’ comments – highlight a potential future crisis: mass climate-change-driven migration.

According to the World Resources Institute (WRI), climate change is already partly responsible for the flood of refugees emanating from Syria.

In a report last month, the WRI wrote: ““Drought and water shortages in Syria likely contributed to the unrest that stoked the country’s 2011 civil war. Dwindling water resources and chronic mismanagement forced 1.5 million people, primarily farmers and herders, to lose their livelihoods and leave their land, move to urban areas, and magnify Syria’s general destabilisation.”

Military issue

The issue has even caught the attention of the UK military, with Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti saying earlier this year that climate change would lead to more UK troops being dispatched around the world on peacekeeping missions and humanitarian aid.

“The impact of climate change is increasing the stresses – such as food shortages or inequality – in a number of volatile countries, increasing the threat of instability in an already unstable world,” said Morisetti.

“This will likely increase the number of British troops mobilised around the world in peacekeeping missions, humanitarian projects, and combat operations. This is as much about blood and treasure as it is about environment.”

Earlier this month, French president Francois Hollande used the threat of climate migrants to try and generate momentum for an ambitious deal in Paris in December – perhaps the most realistic mechanism for prevent a climate refugee crisis.

Hollande told the press that without a global deal, “we won’t have hundreds of thousands of refugees in the next 20 or 30 years, but millions, fleeing submerged islands, drought-stricken regions and other catastrophes”.

Brad Allen

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