Pacific Countries Push Regional Policies To Address Climate Change And Migration

It is scientifically proven that regardless of whether we like it or it is the climate is an ongoing global phenomenon that is sadly continuous as an “threat multiplier” and “very likely” to be caused by human activity.

Since the year 2008, on average, 21.5 millions of people were forced out of their homes every year due to sudden onset climate-related disasters. This number of events is expected to grow in the coming years. Similar research indicates that slow-onset events as well as environmental degradation are also factors in the people’s decision to move.

However, recent inability to provide protection to those who are affected by climate change all across the globe, including in the Pacific region, reveal a glaring inability to enforce international legal safeguards (norms and languages) for tackling climate change. This is evident in an disregard for the rights of human beings of refugees that lawmakers and policymakers are unable to afford.

The Traditional Law, As Well As Climate Legal Risk

Funded with the help of AXA Research Fund and United Nations University Institute for Environment and Human Security (UNU-EHS), my current research concentrates on the principal two legal systems in place in the Pacific which are the state law or national law and the Kastom law (the customary, traditional law). It examines how the distinctions between these two laws could result in legal issues when implementing international laws relating to climate change, like that of the Paris Agreement.

In contrast to state law, which governs legislative or executive laws, Kastom law governs local community law. It’s also called the law of families, clans or tribes, based on the specific arrangements.

The incorporation of international conventions in laws of the country typically is a top-bottom process that is derived from the executive or legislative level and extending to the community. A different legal system at the a local levels could significantly alter the way of thinking. Laws are often interpretable through the lens that is Kastom law. What communities’ members know about the new law may alter the original intent or the expected outcomes of the laws.

International laws are not generally accepted by local residents and it is a global problem. But there are many local communities that do not have a law enforcement system like that may impact the tubular top-bottom method.

In some regions of the Pacific for instance, the planting of trees can lead to the ownership of land immediately, which often isn’t recognized in laws governing land in the country. It is also not a signatory to any international rules governing the management of land.

My research is founded in a human rights-based perspective which emphasizes a bottom-up perspective. It is based on a progressive understanding of law, which emphasizes the need for openness, flexibility and the practical application of law in the implementation of climate science and supporting it. The law in general should be seen as a supportive concept, not a strict (sometimes overtly oppressive) state-led system.

My research project will end in 2018 with another phase of field research which will see the final results completed and the results released and distributed. There are signs of differences between the two legal systems which affect legislators and communities. In addition, it appears that reforms to the legal system in the country’s structure might be needed to fix the differences.

Hybrid Law

The method employed for this study is known as the hybrid law. The concept was first developed in 2007 as a prerequisite to understand the relation between customary law and climate change in the Pacific that is often only spoken about, and is difficult to discern or analyze.

Hybrid law is one of three facets of international law, namely environment law, human rights and refugee or immigration law. It demonstrates an unquestionable connection between the three branches, as well as the fact the fact that climate change can’t be dealt with without reference to human rights or migration in direct or indirect ways.

It’s not enough to analyze human rights without taking into consideration the effects of climate change, or to look at the mobility of people without taking into account climate triggers as the major causes of causality. Migrants, refugees or relocated individuals whether they are cross-border or internal have rights as human beings, and the state should not apply or change policies to block their safe passage and access to legal protection.

Under the international human rights laws and international customary law, states are bound to protect their rights of refugees and migrants as well as in order to provide them respect and dignity and to safeguard against their return in the event that they are at risk of having their rights violated.

Although international refugee law does not specifically mention environmental risks as causes of conflict or persecution however, it doesn’t relieve states from the obligation to meet the needs of those seeking protection from the effects of climate changes.

A Regional Framework

The preliminary results of my research indicate that the most effective approach to tackle human mobility within relation to climate changes is on a regional scale. This is especially applicable to the Pacific in which a few regional strategies have recently proven their effectiveness.

A regional framework that could be developed regarding human mobility as well as climate change, that could consider both customary and regular customary law, will address the rights of migrants and to fill in the gaps at an international level, and aid the state’s individual inability when it comes to addressing this issue on a national scale.

It is evident that on a global scale the process of negotiating on an international framework to deal with climate change could be lengthy and not always focused on the needs of migrants. It requires political will and sometimes, it doesn’t benefit the countries that are most affected. However it takes time and time is something that people who are affected by climate changes, who are able to move, but don’t have.

On a national scale, many states in which displacement or migration occur are lacking human and financial resources, and have a limited capacity to deal with the issue by themselves.

In the course of an regional meeting of Climate Change and Migration in the Pacific hosted by the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat (PIFS) as well as the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN-ESCAP) in early December high-ranking Pacific island government officials advocated the need to find quick solutions to meet the demands of people who are in motion by creating an appropriate regional framework.

The 10 Pacific country representatives who took part at the conference aimed to develop internal guidelines to tackle the issue of human mobility, but also respecting the sovereignty of states when making decisions on their own. They are also looking at developing a legally binding document that regulates human mobility across borders, with a focus in sharing of experiences and respect for each other and a shared cultural identity.

The efforts will continue in 2017 on both the political as well as technical levels – to speed up this groundbreaking regional effort to tackle climate change and mobility of humans.

Again the Pacific is in the frontline.

June 30, 2024