Climate change displacing one person every two seconds, Oxfam report says


December 03, 2019 17:44:27

Fijian man Kelepi Saukitoga is planning to move house. He has no choice — the ocean is lapping at his doorstep.

Key points:

  • 20 million people are displaced due to climate change every year, Oxfam says
  • Mr Saukitoga says it is too dangerous for his family to stay in his house
  • Climate change is now forcing more people out of their homes than war or conflict, Oxfam says

“The problem here is we are facing rising sea levels right now,” he told the ABC by phone.

“My home is one of the homes that is being touched by the sea.”

His house, in the village of Narikoso on Ono Island in Fiji, is where his grandparents grew up.

The villagers have planted mangroves and tried to build a seawall out of rocks, but the island is becoming inundated as the tide rises.

Mr Saukitoga’s house falls in an area severely prone to rising sea levels and it is a danger for his children, he told the ABC, as the sounds of his grandchild playing could be heard in the background.

“It upsets me, but there’s no other option [than to move],” he said.

“We’re looking forward to the relocation because we’re not looking after ourselves, but just we care about my children and my future generation.”

Twenty million displaced each year

Mr Saukitoga is one of the 20 million people internally displaced each year by climate change, according to a new Oxfam briefing paper.

People are now three times more likely to be forced from their homes by climate-fuelled disasters than by conflict, according to the charity’s analysis, which found a person was internally displaced due to climate change every two seconds.

Those figures would include Australians who have lost their homes in bushfires.

The Forced from Home briefing paper — Oxfam’s analysis of Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre data — was released as the United Nations climate summit COP25 kicked off in Spain on Monday.

Eighty per cent of those displaced by climate change live in Asia, and the Pacific is particularly at risk, according to the paper.

Fiji is listed among the top 10 countries where people are most at risk of displacement due to extreme weather events, alongside Tuvalu, the Philippines, Vanuatu and Tonga.

“It is the world’s poorest countries and communities, which bear little responsibility for global carbon pollution, that face the highest risk of climate-fuelled displacement,” the Oxfam report says.

It says extreme weather is the single biggest driver of internal displacement worldwide, but the number of refugees from conflict is also rising, and there is “increasing evidence that the climate crisis is exacerbating instability in many regions … and increasing the risk of conflict in the future”.

In Tuvalu tropical cyclones have displaced 4.5 per cent of the population, while in Fiji Cyclone Winston in 2016 impacted 350,000 people, destroyed 24,000 homes, and cost the country one-fifth of its GDP in disaster-response funding.

Fiji has since proposed the ambitious Climate Change Act, and has earmarked more than 80 communities for relocation.

The now-abandoned village of Vunidogoloa is a case in point, the Oxfam report says, for “how even the carefully planned relocation of a small community a short distance from its ancestral land can create considerable challenges”.

Amid rising sea levels, Kiribati has also purchased a portion of land in Fiji to ensure the country’s food security.

‘Urgent’ reductions needed

“Oxfam is calling for more urgent and ambitious emissions reductions to minimise the impact of the climate crisis,” the not-for-profit group said in its recommendations ahead of COP25.

The office for Australian Minister for the Environment Sussan Ley said emissions reduction was an issue for Energy Minister Angus Taylor.

“Australia is taking action to cut global emissions and our Climate Solutions Package sets out to the last tonne how we will meet our 2030 target,” Mr Taylor said in a statement to the ABC.

He said new data released last week showed Australia’s emissions were lower than when the Coalition took power in 2013. Those figures showed the lowest emissions output was in 2016.

“The Pacific is Australia’s home and we share the region’s responsibilities and challenges — particularly in addressing the impact of climate change,” he said.

“The Government recognises the major challenges that climate change poses to the Pacific and is providing significant support to help build climate and disaster resilience in the region.”

Australia was accused of hampering efforts by small island states to get Pacific-wide consensus on their declaration for stronger action on climate change at the Pacific Islands Forum this year. Tongan Prime Minister Akilisi Pohiva was reduced to tears and other Pacific leaders criticised Australia’s stance on coal.

The topic of sea level rise was also highlighted during last night’s Q&A in Fiji, where Tuvalu’s former Prime Minister Enele Sopoaga said he was “taken aback” by Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who he said was “expressing views that completely denies that there is climate change already happening in the Pacific”.

A spokesman for Mr Morrison has rejected the claim.

Mr Morrison has outlined how $500 million will be redirected from existing aid programs to help build climate and disaster resilience in the Pacific.












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