The most profound effect of sea level rise could be the disappearance of ancient cultures and displacement from Small Island Developing States, warns IOM on World Environment Day.
Rising sea levels, extreme weather events, instability and an uncertain economic climate are combining to feed an ongoing exodus from Small Islands Developing States, or SIDS, illustrating in realtime that climate, migration and development are inextricably linked.
2104 is the Year of Small Island Developing States, giving the global community a unique opportunity to capitalize on a number of high-level international processes on migration and development. First comes a SIDS conference in Samoa in September, then the World Conference on Disaster Risk Reduction and the Climate Conference respectively in Japan and France in 2015 and the World Humanitarian Summit in Turkey in 2016.
Advanced discussions have already taken place in the context of the United Nations post 2015 Development Agenda, focusing on forced displacement, the human impacts of climate change and natural disasters, migrant remittances and labour mobility.
“We live in an era of unprecedented, mass migration,” said IOM’s Director General, William Lacy Swing. “This is inevitable due to demographics and other factors such as climate change. Migration is also necessary for development and growth, and desirable if well-governed, particularly in Small Island Developing States who suffer more than most from brain drains.”
Small Island Developing States emit less than one per cent of total global emissions of greenhouse gases, but their leaders are taking a lead in seeking a new legal climate agreement in 2015. Many are to the forefront in disaster preparedness and prevention or are involved in innovative approaches on renewable energy.
It is now generally recognized that some islands might in the future face physical disappearance. This means that new homes on other islands or elsewhere will have to be found for the affected populations, which poses a unique challenge to human rights. Kiribati has already purchased agricultural land in Fiji, and more governments will be thinking along similar lines.
Small-scale cross-border relocations have already taken place, and it is feared that permanent relocation, if not planned and managed, might lead to the disappearance of unique cultures and traditions, including the loss of cultural identity among inhabitants.
IOM aligns itself with the thinking of the UNEP, the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the World Meteorological Organization in favouring early proactive planning, as resettlement of entire communities might prove to be socially, culturally and economically disruptive.
Noting that this year will see the re-emergence of the ocean-warming El Nino effect, IOM draws attention to IPCC’s 5th Assessment Report’s finding that climate change over the 21st century has increased displacement of people and that the risk of displacement increases “when populations that lack the resources for planned migration experience higher exposure to extreme weather events, in both rural and urban areas, particularly in developing countries with low income.”