Constitutional law expert and associate professor at the University of Auckland Bill Hodge said he applauded Kidd’s “ingenious arguments,” but did not think they would succeed because his client has not been singled out and victimized due to something like his gender, race or political persuasion.
Hodge added that even if the Kiribati man loses, his case might make a good argument for expanding the definition of what constitutes a refugee.
He said he expected there would be increasing pressure on nations such as New Zealand and Australia to help provide new homes for Pacific Islanders threatened by rising seas.
Tidal gauges indicate the world’s oceans have been rising at an annual rate of 3.2mm since 1970. Many scientists expect that rate to accelerate and for climate change to trigger more intense storms, which may pose an even more pressing threat to many of the world’s low-lying islands.
Kiribati’s government is pursuing its own strategies. It has paid a deposit for 2,428 hectares in nearby Fiji, which Kiribati President Anote Tong has said will provide food security and a possible refuge for future generations. The nation has also been talking with a Japanese firm about the possibility of constructing a floating island, which would cost billions of dollars.
Kiribati Government spokesman Rimon Rimon said he thought the man in New Zealand was taking the wrong approach. He said the government is working hard to train people in skills such as nursing, carpentry and automotive repairs so that if they do leave Kiribati, they can be productive in their adoptive countries. He said his opinions on the matter were his own.
“Kiribati may be doomed by climate change in the near future, but just claiming refugee status due to climate change is the easy way out,” he said.