Climate change migration is ‘genocide’, says Marshall Islands minister

Spectre of lost traditions as low-lying islands become inhabitable cause for climate action, says top envoy, Tony de Brum

On average just 2m above sea level, the Marshall Islands are vulnerable to storm surges (Pic: Alson J Kelen)

On average just 2m above sea level, the Marshall Islands are vulnerable to storm surges (Pic: Alson J Kelen)

By Alex Pashley

Marshall Islands foreign minister Tony de Brum has compared the prospect of forced migration of atoll nations to genocide.

The loaded intervention came as island states vulnerable to sea-level rise were slated to meet in Kiribati to discuss preparations for future evacuations as climate impacts ramp up this century.

“Displacements of populations and destruction of cultural language and tradition is equivalent in our minds to genocide,” de Brum said in comments reported by Radio New Zealand on Monday.

“People must know that climate change can be reversed if we do it now,” he told the country’s state broadcaster.

De Brum, who is the Marshall Islands’ top representative at UN talks, has long been an ardent critic of slow action to combat climate change.

Report: Bullish Marshall Islands aim high with UN climate plan

But the comments are his most extreme yet, two months before a decisive summit set to secure a new global warming agreement.

Countries have agreed to try and limit global warming to 2C – a goal the latest national pledges do not go far enough to meet. Vulnerable island states argue the target must be tightened to 1.5C.

The president of tiny Pacific state Kiribati, Anote Tong, has bought land over 2,000 miles away in Fiji to relocate his people as an insurance policy against growing climate impacts.

Tidal surges, more severe cyclones and crops ruined by brackish water threaten the low-lying republic.

Foreign minister Akka Rimon said climate migrants must be treated in a dignified way, ahead of this week’s gathering with Tuvalu, the Maldives and other islands.

Last month, a man seeking to be the world’s first climate change refugee lost his appeal to remain in New Zealand.

Read more on: 2C | Pacific | UN climate talks | Water