A week ago I heard the news that the Kiribati man who was seeking asylum in New Zealand because “rising seas and environmental risks caused by global warming” had lost his appeal. To recall: he came to New Zealand in 2007 and was ordered to leave the country. He then claimed he couldn’t safely return to his country because of global warming and the sea level rise. Asylum was refused on the grounds his claim fell short of the legal criteria, such as fear of persecution or threats to his life. He then appealed the decision. Now he fears deportation because he lost the appeal.
The verdict was of course not based on science or facts, but on juridical analysis. Juridically he didn’t fulfill the current definition of a refugee although his lawyer took great effort in trying to change the definition of “persecution”. They now consider taking the case to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
One question kept buggering me: how could such a case ever been started? If we look at the sea level rise in the Kiribati area, it is remarkably stable. A study found that some islands there even increased in size. Yet, now someone is pleading that his country is not able to care for its inhabitants anymore and will be engulfed by an assumed rise somewhere in the future. Without seeing an actual rise. Looking at the data and considering that these are not islands but atolls, should at least put some question marks with these claims.
It made me think about another situation. Last year at the Warsaw summit, the developing countries walked away from the negotiations because their expectations of being compensated for the historic emissions of the developed world were not fulfilled. Scientists, politicians and the media told for many decades that CO2 is the culprit of extreme weather and therefor there is a need to limit its emissions. The developing countries took that for granted and claimed compensation because of this wrongdoing of the developed countries.
None of these are based on an actual threat, but on assumptions, on mathematical models, but also on politics. The overstatements have their origin in keeping fear alive. The fear that many bad things could happen, so to influence other people/politicians in supporting their solution. Fear is of course a powerful political instrument, but playing with fear can have unintentional consequences.
After stating CO2 responsible for all things bad and even boldly stating that our past emissions amplifying and/or even causing storms such as Haiyan, it would come as no surprise that developing countries make an emotional appeal for compensation of this injustice. Even if there is no link found between our emissions and storms. Yet politicians keep on feeding this idea in an desperate move to influence decision making. What would happen in the next summit in Paris 2015 is rather predictable.
After stating CO2 responsible for (global) sea level rise, it would come as no big surprise that inhabitants of atolls declare there is no future for them and they need the money or a residence in the developed world. Even if sea level is stable in their area. It has nothing to do with the science or the facts. We made it very easy for them for them to come to such a conclusion.
Don’t take me wrong. Cebu and Kiribati have real issues that have to be met. Haiyan struck poor people that were not prepared. Helping them is a no brainer. Kiribati has an issue with overpopulation and more impact on the environmental than it can handle. But connecting them with global warming is distracting from the real issues and therefor is not going to help to solve them.