Millions of future climate refugees may need protection, U.N. committee warns
Refugees fleeing their native countries due to the effects of the climate crisis in future years may not be forced to return if their lives are in danger, the United Nations Human Rights Committee said in a ruling Monday. The committee anticipates a flood of "millions" of climate refugees in the near future.
The first-of-its-kind ruling — which a U.N. official called "powerfully symbolic" —came in the case of Ioane Teitiota, who applied for protection in New Zealand in 2013. Teitiota claimed his family's lives were at risk in his home nation of Kiribati, a country severely threatened by rising sea levels. And while he actually lost his case, the U.N. committee took the opportunity to make a broader statement about climate refugees.
The situation in Tarawa, Teitiota's home island, "has become increasingly unstable and precarious due to sea-level rise caused by global warming," his counsel said. Saltwater contamination and overcrowding on the island have resulted in scarce freshwater resources and a growing housing crisis.
In 1947, South Tarawa was home to just 1,671 people. In 2010, its population surpassed 50,000 after nearby islands became uninhabitable. By 2017, Kiribati's population had soared to over 100,000 people.
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