The Climate Displaced Persons Act
This legislation is monumental and unprecedented. The 1951 Geneva Convention provides grounds for refugee status but does not cover those displaced due to climate hazards. In 2017, New Zealand’s Labour Party considered an experimental humanitarian visa category for Pacific Islanders displaced by the effects of climate change. Since the Pacific is one of the largest regions impacted by sea-level rise, typhoon activity, and ENSO-related events, New Zealand looked to allow 100 Pacific Islanders to relocate to New Zealand annually under the experimental visa category. However, six months after the proposal, the proposal failed. The Labour Party failed to consider Pacific Islanders’ lack of desire to leave their homes. They failed to consider the feelings of the people they were trying to help. In many indigenous cultures worldwide, the cosmological tie between one’s land and people is so strong that many cannot see existing without the other.
What was learned was that gaining special “refugee” status needed to be seen only as a last resort. After efforts to reduce emissions, support adaptation efforts, and legal pathways to migrate with dignity have been exhausted. The US has TPS, and Brazil has humanitarian visas, which have provided safe pathways for Haitians and Syrians. The CDPA provides a new visa scheme with everything the NZ plan did not include: a Global Climate Change Resiliency Strategy, Training of Foreign Service Officers in climate change resilience with guidance on the humanitarian impacts of climate change, and then, Admission of Climate Displaced Persons.
Under the direction of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, we are fortunate to currently have a team from the US Suva Embassy in Kiribati re-establishing relations. Because Kiribati is on the front lines, this bill could be seen as a lifeline for its citizens and others.
This bill is the international companion to the IRA’s climate solutions. America can be an example for the rest of the world by humanizing climate change from the frontlines as our climate crisis intensifies minute by minute.