For years, we've been worried about climate migration -- when people will be forced to leave their homes and move elsewhere to escape the scourge of climate change. In Fiji, and in many of the Pacific island countries, this has already started. Here, the question isn’t if or when communities will be forced to move, but how exactly to do it.
There are already over 40 villages in Fiji that have been earmarked for potential relocation in the next five to 10 years due to the impacts of the climate crisis. Six have already been moved, and the government is desperately working on a new plan to move villages as quickly and efficiently as possible, as every new climate disaster comes with the risk of more villages being added to the list.
Over the past four years, a special task force of the Fijian government has been trying to work out how to move the country. It has created a plan called the “Standard Operating Procedures for Planned Relocations,” which sets out how to relocate communities due to sea rise. The plan will soon be discussed by the cabinet office and hopefully, will be put into practice as quickly as possible
But it won't be easy.
Fiji, an archipelago in the south Pacific, has over 300 islands, and a population of under one million people -- 65% of which lives within five kilometers of the shoreline. It’s a country very susceptible to the impacts of the climate crisis. In 2016, Cyclone Winston hit Fiji, killed 44 people and caused $1.4 billion worth of damages.
The government hopes its new plan will resolve the many uncertainties of the relocation process. Until now, whether a village was eligible to move depended a lot on the influence of village leaders. Under the new plan, the process will be standardized. The first step will be obtaining consensus from the community.
All adaptation options will be explored, from reclaiming surrounding areas to dredging riverbeds to raising the houses on stilts. Only then, when all the alternative measures have been ruled out, after consultation with the community, can the relocation occur. But even when everyone agrees, the process can still be limited by access to money.
It’s also an expensive process, and neither Fiji’s government, nor the villages being relocated, can really afford it. That’s why, in 2019, the government launched the world’s first relocation trust fund for people displaced by climate. In 2020, New Zealand become the first international partner to donate to the fund ($1.2 million). It's been negotiated that richer countries that became rich by burning fossil fuels will shell some of these costs for developing nations that are suffering most from climate change.
Climate migrants and relocations
Climate migration happens when someone is forced to move away from an area affected by extreme weather and seeks refuge in areas with more moderate climates. It’s a global phenomenon, with people all over the world being forced out of their homes due to repeated environmental disasters, such as wildfires or floods.
The UN International Organization for Migration estimates there could be one billion climate migrants in the next 30 years, while other projections suggest 1.2 billion by 2050 and 1.4 billion by 2060. After 2050, the figure is expected to soar as the world warms even further and the global population rises to its expected peak in mid-2060s.
Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, appealed to global leaders at the climate summit COP27 to take bold action and tackle the humanitarian consequences of the climate crisis. "We cannot leave millions of displaced people and their hosts to face the consequences of a changing climate alone," Grandi said in a speech.