Sam Judd
Comment on the environment from nzherald.co.nz columnist Sam Judd

Sam Judd: Climate change refugees are real

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Adapting to climate change in Bangladesh - a school boat made by non-profit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha. Image / www.shidulai.org
Adapting to climate change in Bangladesh - a school boat made by non-profit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha. Image / www.shidulai.org

It seems like the general consensus has turned a corner about climate change.

Although undoubtedly someone will hide behind a screen name, quote some bogey science and comment on here to maintain denial (possibly a paid lobbyist) - they are quite clearly in the minority and

I am no scientist, but you just cannot argue with 97 per cent of actively publishing climate scientists who that climate change is human caused agree, without looking absurd.

Aside from the science, we are now starting to see impacts on populations that are very real and disturbing. The Isle de Jean Charles Band of Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw Native Americans have been forced to flee their in Louisiana. Since 1950 - they have lost 98 per cent of their land to rising sea levels, coastal erosion and flooding.

In addition to the major societal disruption and permanent loss of culture that losing land creates (which our Tangata Whenua are all-too-familiar with in Aotearoa/New Zealand), the United States taxpayers have footed a $US52 million bill to help these climate change refugees relocate.

Closer to home, this issue is becoming increasingly urgent and it seems to me that it would be silly for us not to plan for it with the fertile, high ground and developed economy that we enjoy here.

I am proud to say that New Zealand led the world when a court order enabled a family from Tuvalu to gain residency to become the worlds' first official climate change refugees and this shed our country in a very positive light in international media who believe that this ruling may strengthen future climate refugees' cases as a precendent.



National Geographic reports that Tuvalu - widely known as one of the first places that will sink with rising sea levels as their highest point is only 4.5 metres from the ocean - has struck up an agreement with our government to take their 11,600 citizens in the event that their islands sink.

Also - the closer the islands are to the ocean, the more vulnerable they will be to storms like the fatal cyclone Winston, which caused widespread destruction and despair for our South Pacific neighbours Fiji. And as good neighbours, we will inevitably assist, but if these events keep happening - who will foot the bill?

In 1995, half of an island called Bhola in Bangladesh was inundated - an event which displaced half a million people - and by 2050 over 20 million climate refugees are expected to need to be relocated from under-developed low-lying country.

My point here is that climate change refugees are real and we need to prepare for it through mitigation and adaptation. My favourite story of adaptation so far is the Bangladeshi non-profit Shidhulai Swanirvar Sangstha. They have built over 40 school boats that enable kids to get an education despite the fact that their land is flooded. These floating classrooms include computers, libraries and solar lamps so that they children can study at night after working all day (which is the reality for much of the developed world).

Having met kids that grow up on boats I know that they come our more resilient and innovative due to the fact that they have to make do with what they have rather than complain about what they don't.

When I see this kind of innovation - which was recognised with a United Nations Environment Program Inspiring Environmental Action prize in 2012 - it continues to give me hope that if we collaborate then we can effectively adapt to these problems.

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