The World’s First Climate Change Refugees Were Granted Residency in New Zealand

A Tuvalese family said they can’t go home because of climate change

The world's first climate refugees hail from Tuvalu, a Polynesian island nation. Photo: Stephanie Rabemiafara/Art in All of Us/Corbis

This summer, a family from the Polynesian island nation of Tuvalu became the world's first to gain residency in another country as climate change refugees, the New Zealand Herald reports. The family submitted a residency application to the New Zealand government, stating that the ill-effects of climate change prevented them from returning home, where rising tides are causing salt water encroachment that pollutes Tuvalu's drinking water. 

The application was approved making this the first case that climate change was successfully used to gain permanent entry into another country. However, the Herald points out, the family in question has three generations of relatives living in New Zealand; as a rule, the country is wary of "opening the floodgates to other climate change refugee claims." Earlier this year, another climate change refugee's application was rejected, the Herald reports. And the UN's Refugee Convention does not yet include climate change on its list of legitimate claims for seeking refuge.

Despite those caveats, the Washington Posts writes, "The recent New Zealand ruling could give smaller nations stronger leverage on the international stage." And either way—with 150 to 300 million people predicted to be displaced by climate change by 2050, the Post points out—nations around the world will have to begin thinking seriously about these issues in the very near future. 

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