The Guardian • Issue #2079


The rough deal facing climate refugees

  • The Guardian
  • Issue #2079
Tokelau Warriors: We are not drowning. We are fighting.

Tokelau Warriors: We are not drowning. We are fighting. Photo: – (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 Deed)

As the consequence of the world’s inaction on climate intensifies, the effects are felt more acutely by those who did the least to cause them. The starkest examples come from our Pacific neighbours, who are witnessing their countries disappear under the waves while the world’s leaders fail to offer token gestures, let alone solutions. That was until recently, when one arrived – a token gesture that is, not a solution.

Anthony Albanese’s Labor government recently announced a characteristically weak deal that would see Tuvalu compromise its sovereignty in exchange for resettlement for a small number of climate refugees. The government will assume total control over Tuvalu’s freedom of choice in its security arrangements. For this gross infringement on Tuvaluan sovereignty, Australia is offering a path to resettlement for a tiny trickle of 280 people per year. This deal can only be seen as a hypocritical empty gesture from a country that would treat a similar action on the part of a country like China as a naked act of aggression.

The historical reality of the South Pacific region is that it has always been Western capitalist countries like Australia, France, and the United States who have used Pacific islands as their pawns and colonies, continuing to this day. Western powers everywhere continue to demonstrate a callous disregard for the lives of colonised people, whether they be Palestinians, Indigenous Australians or the many nations of the Pacific.

Tuvalu faces an imminent and existential threat it did nothing to cause, yet the government acts with all the lack of urgency we have come to expect. Climate change can no longer be treated as a distant issue when Australians are dying, having their houses destroyed and getting internally displaced right now. Yet the only solutions the ALP government can produce are increasingly implausible schemes like carbon capture and storage. Evidently, Albanese places more importance on creating the spectacle of action in climate change while delivering nothing but an outrageous power grab for regional dominance.

As the number of those displaced by climate change increases, policies like these continue the dangerous trend of utilising the vulnerable as political tools. For liberals like Albanese, climate refugees can be used as charity showcases as part of his greenwashing agenda, while the far right continues to peddle the myth that refugees are the cause of every economic problem. The influence of the so-called refugee crisis following the imperialist wars in the Middle East, and the resurgence of fascism across the European continent prompted many to dread the consequence of the even larger crisis that will unfold from climate change.

Without strong and progressive action now, we risk setting a precedent that will be disastrous in the not-too-distant future. Deals like the one with Tuvalu only confirm that the government is unwilling to take such action. The cost of this time-wasting is measured in the lives of the innocent. This is too steep a price to pay for the lesson that inaction has consequences.

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