PM won’t be drawn on climate change refugees
Suited up . . . Mr Rudd poses with other leaders at the Pacific Forum in Cairns yesterday. Photo: Glen McCurtayne
Brendan Nicholson, Foreign Affairs Correspondent, in CairnsAugust 6, 2009
AS PACIFIC nations plead for help dealing with rising sea levels and savage storms brought by climate change, Kevin Rudd has offered to help build sea walls and rehouse those driven from their homes.
But at the Pacific Islands Forum meeting in Cairns yesterday, the Prime Minister avoided saying whether Australia would accept climate refugees from the region.
Mr Rudd said he was shocked to hear from regional leaders of coastal villages already being abandoned and farmland and water supplies destroyed by rising salt water.
He said the scale of the crisis facing the region was alarmingly illustrated by the fact that 50 per cent of the population of Pacific Island countries lived within 1.5 kilometres of the coast.
Mr Rudd released a new policy document promising practical support to Australia’s Pacific neighbours.
That would include such practical measures as helping build sea walls and help these countries build their resistance to disasters including cyclones and storm surges and an increase threat of diseases.
Asked if Australia would consider taking in climate refugees, Mr Rudd responded: ‘‘Let’s be blunt about the order of priorities here. One is a set of actions agreed to by the international community which minimise the impact of coastal inundation as we minimise the impact of climate change but taking the mitigation measures that are outlined in the possible contents of a new framework agreement and the various national actions to be undertaken here in Australia.’’
Mr Rudd said Australia would provide practical help with the internal relocation of refugees and other measures and take on wider international responsibilities.
Kiribati’s Secretary of Foreign Affairs and Immigration, Tessie Lambourne, made an emotional plea for understanding of her country’s situation with a warning that the low-lying atolls were already being inundated and her people were seriously exposed to major storms. She said Kirabati had a plan to train its people so that they could fill gaps in the labour forces of countries that wanted to take them in.
‘‘We are a very proud people. My Government does not want people to be relocated as refugees,’’ Ms Lambourne said.
The Prime Minister of Vanuatu, Edward Nipake Natapei, said his country had enough higher level land to relocate people displaced by climate change. But it would appreciate Australia’s help in resettling them, Mr Natapei said.
Mr Rudd received strong support from the executive secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, Yvo de Boer, who said that if Parliament passed the Government’s emissions reduction plan, it would significantly improve Australia’s credibility at the Copenhagen climate talks in December.
The Australian legislation will be voted on in a week.