Envisioning South-South relations in the fields of environmental change and migration in the Pacific Islands - past, present and futures
Climate change poses severe threats to developing countries. Scientists predict entire states (e.g. Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Tuvalu, and Maldives) will become inhabitable. People living in these states have to resettle to other countries. Media and politicians warn that climate change will trigger migration flows in dimensions unknown to date. It is feared that millions from developing countries overwhelm developed societies and increase pressures on anyway ailing social support systems destabilizing societies and becoming a potential source of conflict.
Inhabitants of Pacific Islandsa have been mobile since the islands were first settled not longer than 3,500 years ago. Since then people moved around, expanded their reach, and traded with neighbouring tribes (and later countries). With the event of European powers in the 15th century independent mobility became restricted after the beginning of the 19th century. From the second half of the 19th century movements of people predominately served economic interests of colonial powers, in particular a huge colonial appetite for labour. After independence emigration from Pacific Island countries continued to serve economic interest of metropolitan countries at the rim of the Pacific Ocean, which are able to direct migration flows according to their economic requirements.
If climate change resettlements become necessary in big numbers then Pacific Islanders do not want to become climate change refugees. To include environmental reasons in refugee conventions is not what Pacific Islanders want. They want to migrate in dignity, if it becomes unavoidable to leave their homes. There are good reasons to solve the challenges within Pacific Island societies and do not depend too much on metropolitan neighbours at the rim of the Pacific such as Australia, New Zealand and the USA. To rise to the challenge requires enhanced Pan-Pacific Island solidarity and South-South cooperation. This then would result in a reduction of dependencies. For metropolitan powers still much can be done in supporting capacity building in Pacific Island countries and helping the economies to proposer so that climate change migrants easier can be absorbed by expanding labour markets in Pacific Island countries.
Bandung: Journal of the Global South 2015, 2:6