New Zealand’s Political Responses to Climate Change and Migration in the Pacific: A Perspective from the South

Chang, Ti-Han orcid iconORCID: 0000-0003-1324-2992 and Collie, Lyn (2022) New Zealand’s Political Responses to Climate Change and Migration in the Pacific: A Perspective from the South. In: Pacific Voices and Climate Change. Palgrave Macmillan, pp. 61-87. ISBN 978-3-030-98459-5

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Straddling the equator, atolls in the Pacific region have long been regarded distant and exotic by the rest of the world, with their minimal population, low GDP, and distinctive cultural and geographic features. However, since global climate displacements became the centre of attention in the mass media in the early 2000s, the Pacific’s relatively high exposure to the effects of climate change has placed it at the centre of political debate and academic research on this subject.

In Kiribati, there has previously been a focus on mitigating the problem of climate displacement by encouraging intergovernmental policies which channel resources into labour migration, either to other developing countries in the Pacific or to more developed neighbours, particularly New Zealand and Australia. However, we recognise that this approach assumes a Eurocentric set of values based on the principles of human rights and free labour mobility and produces a number of negative outcomes. This paper offers a critical analysis specifically focused on New Zealand’s Pacific migration schemes and the current climate change policies of Kiribati. In it we argue that significant disadvantages occur for Pacific migrants to New Zealand (including I-Kiribati), including racial discrimination and poor social and economic outcomes compared to the general population. We also demonstrate that in situ climate resilience and adaptation have not been properly explored, and the issue of social and economic vulnerabilities has been insufficiently addressed. Therefore, we conclude that climate change mitigation through labour mobility should be considered only as a last resort. Options that are likely to generate better outcomes include a commitment on the part of developed countries to cut carbon emissions and offer assistance to strengthen the climate resilience of low-lying Pacific islands.

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