Kya Raina Lal and Mattea Mrkusic: Opinion: The Pacific, Climate Change and Displacement

This post originally appeared on The Wireless.


Reporting from COP21 today are Kya Raina Lal and Mattea Mrkusic.

Mattea is a 20-year-old climate change and forced displacement advocate. She grew up in Auckland, but now lives in Boston, where she studies human rights and environmental studies at Harvard University. 

Kya, 23, is a Pacific climate advocate. Originally from Fiji, she now lives in Auckland, specialising in environmental law and the legal impacts and implications of climate change on the Pacific region.

Kiribati President Anote Tong at COP21, speaking about his country's 'Migration with Dignity' policy. Photo: Mattea Mrkusic

Leaders from 11 Pacific nations are at the UN climate summit, including Kiribati president Anote Tong and Tuvalu's prime minister Enele Sopoaga. Kya says the Pacific nations are united in their call for a legal binding Paris agreement, not just a declaration of intent, a goal to keep warming below 1.5 degrees, and the need for a strong loss and damages mechanism. “The Pacific is all on the same page in that respect, but even with 1.5 degrees it’s too late for some of them.”

Kya says Kiribati president Anote Tong has reiterated his plan for “migration with dignity”.

“Kiribati is already thinking about ways of dealing with the potential displacement of some or all of their people. They are putting in place measures that will equip their people with skills so they can relocate through international migration policies on the basis of skills, and thereby be able to move to other countries and be able to contribute meaningfully to their new country.”

Having grown up in Fiji, the issue of climate displacement is not a remote possibility for Kya.

“We are one of the larger islands, our impacts are not going to be as severe as Tokelau, Kiribati or Tuvalu. We’re not going to see complete inundation or our islands being rendered completely uninhabitable, however, even then, we have already had to move 45 communities due to sea level rise and there are another 830 communities that are set to be moved because climate impacts will displace them otherwise.“

Mattea says New Zealand should start thinking about climate immigration now. “We can start by opening up humanitarian access categories for those who will be affected by climate displacement, because it’s the right thing to do, we have such a rich Pacifica culture in New Zealand and we have a duty because we are contributing to this.”

She says people who are at risk of displacement by climate change do not want to be considered refugees. She would like to see countries like New Zealand to enter into regional and bilateral agreements that would give climate migrants access to stream-lined processes which allowed them to enter a country, upskill, and rebuild their lives.


All posts by Institute delegates reflect their own thoughts, opinions and experiences, and do not reflect those of the Institute.

Posted on December 8, 2015 and filed under UN Climate Talks 2015, Institute Updates.