Climate Change Refugees To Be Officially Recognised After UN Ruling

A groundbreaking climate refugee case ruling has been handed down by a UN human rights body, setting a precedent for future climate refugee cases.

In 2015, Ioane Teitiota was denied asylum in New Zealand after the authorities denied his claim of asylum as a 'climate refugee'.

After the ruling, Teitiota was deported back to his home on the Pacific island nation of Kiribati where he said he and his family faced financial hardships and no access to safe drinking water.

Teitiota brought his case against the New Zealand government to the UN Human Rights Committee (HRC) in 2016.

Earlier this month, in a landmark decision, the HRC found it unlawful for governments to return people to countries where there is a threat of climate crisis.

The court did not rule in favor of Teitiota's individual case, but has registered a precedent for climate refugee cases.

Rising sea-levels in the Pacific island nation of Kiribati pose a threat to inhabitants. Image: Getty.

Amnesty International Pacific researcher Kate Schuetze said the ruling sets "a global precedent".

“The message is clear: Pacific Island states do not need to be underwater before triggering human rights obligations to protect the right to life”.

Island nations like Kiribati are on the front line of climate change, where rising sea levels pose a real and immediate threat.

Rising sea levels adversely affect safe drinking water supplies in Kiribati and other island nations.

The court acknowledged the deteriorating conditions on Teitiota's home on the island of Tarawa, noting Kiribati could be underwater in 10-15 years.

But the New Zealand government used the same timeline in their case against Teitiota in 2016.

They said the Government of Kiribati had adequate time to implement preventative measures and take cautionary action.

The risk against Kiribati was declared as "intermediate".

Teitiota said this risk assessment was too low and pointed out Tarawa's population had increased from 1,641 in 1947 to 50,000 in 2010.

This population increase, along with water supplies being spoiled by saltwater contamination, placed a burden on the freshwater resources -- which are being used faster than they are being replenished.

Island nations surrounding Australia. Image: Getty.

The Committee's ruling called for future judgments involving climate refugee cases to carefully consider the impact climate degradation can have on quality of life.

Two of the 18 members of the committee disagreed with the conclusion New Zealand was justified in removing Teitiota to Kiribati.

Committee member Duncan Laki Muhumuza said a violation had been made in the case of Teitiota.

"The facts before the Committee re-emphasise the need to employ a human-sensitive approach to human rights issues" he said.

"Moreover, the Committee needs to handle critical and significantly irreversible issues of climate change, with the approach that seeks to uphold the sanctity of human life."