BBC’s biased reporting of the Gaza massacre

BBC's biased reporting of the Gaza massacre: Tariq Ali


Published on Aug 10, 2014 • Tariq Ali tells the BBC on 09/08/14, when 150,000 marched in the biggest ever UK demonstration for Gaza, why there is such widespread criticism of the Israeli bias in its reporting. (For more on the demonstration see: http://bit.ly/1ozrch>

Has the era of the ‘climate change refugee’ begun?

A far-flung scattering of islands in a turquoise sea, Tuvalu is one of the planets' smallest and most remote nations, just west of the International Date Line, just south of the equator.

Funafuti, Tuvalu

Tuvalu's coastline consists of white and sandy beaches, green palm trees and mangroves. It is hard to imagine that anybody would want to leave this small island nation, located between Australia and Hawaii, voluntarily. But Tuvalu has become the epicenter of a landmark refugee ruling that could mark the beginning of a wave of similar cases: On June 4, a family was granted residency by the Immigration and Protection Tribunal in New Zealand after claiming to be threatened by climate change in its home country, Tuvalu. The news was first reported by the New Zealand Herald on Sunday.

The small Pacific island nation sits just two meters above sea level. If the current sea level rise continues, experts believe the island might disappear in approximately 30 to 50 years. Tuvalu shares this existential threat with many other island nations and coastal regions, which have struggled for years to raise international awareness about their tragic plight. Predictions for climate change-induced displacement range widely from 150 to 300 million people by 2050, with low-income countries having the far largest burden of disaster-induced migration, according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.

Those threatened by sea-level rise, droughts or other natural catastrophes face an epochal problem: Victims of climate change are not recognized as refugees by the International Refugee Convention. In the Tuvalu case, Sigeo Alesana and his family reportedly left the island nation in 2007 and moved to New Zealand, where they lost their legal status in 2009. The family was not able to obtain work visas and had to apply for refugee and protected persons status in 2012. Although the claims were dismissed in March 2013 and an appeal was turned down, the family's case was finally approved. The case was closely followed by immigration and environmental lawyers all over the world.

Sigeo Alesana and his wife claimed before the tribunal that climate change had made life in Tuvalu more difficult due to much more frequently occurring inundations, that caused coastal erosion and made it difficult to grow crops. The tribunal explicitly mentioned climate change in its assessment saying that Alesana's children were particularly “vulnerable to natural disasters and the adverse impact of climate change.”

“I don't see it as delivering any kind of 'verdict' on climate change as such,” says Vernon Rive, a Senior Lecturer in Law at AUT Law School in Auckland. The New Zealand decision is very specific because the family based its application for residency on three arguments, Rive says. First, the family members claimed to be refugees; second, they argued to be “protected people“, and third, the family said its case fell under “exceptional humanitarian grounds.” Each of these arguments is based on an existing convention regarding refugees, but the family only succeeded because it claimed “exceptional humanitarian grounds,” which is a wording recognized in New Zealand's immigration legislation but not by many other governments.

In its judgment the New Zealand tribunal surprisingly acknowledged the humanitarian consequences of climate change among other factors, such as the presence of an elderly mother who required care. In its conclusion, however, the tribunal refrained from singling out climate change and stated that other factors would already have been sufficient to grant residency to the family. In other words: The tribunal avoided a clear decision on whether climate change can or cannot be reason enough for refugees to be granted residency. The mere fact that the tribunal mentioned the impacts of global warming as a contributing factor to the ruling is nevertheless remarkable. “What this decision will not do is open the gates to all people from places such as Kiribati, Tuvalu and Bangladesh who may suffer hardship because of the impacts of climate change,” Rive says.

While the tribunal's decision may not have the same impact everywhere, it could send a strong signal to a number of nations, such as Sweden and Finland, that often grant asylum to people affected by natural disasters. According to French climate change migration expert François Gemenne, governments need to get to grips with the reality of climate change refugees, irrespective of legal conventions. “I believe that bilateral or regional arrangements are going to become necessary,” says Gemenne, suggesting a raft of agreements will need to be put into place, between nations and among geopolitical blocs, that will ensure the protection of those displaced by rising waters.

But will there eventually be open doors for the victims of climate change? Some of the countries endangered by climate change fear that their citizens could effectively become “second class” citizens abroad. As a consequence, the island nation Kiribati – itself at risk from climate change – has set up a “Migration with Dignity” program which involves training its citizens as highly-skilled workers who are needed and welcomed in other countries if and when the residents of Kiribati are forced to move.

The recent New Zealand ruling could give smaller nations stronger leverage on the international stage. But do the world's leading statesmen, beset by a host of other crises, care? Michael Gerrard, Director for Climate Change Law at Columbia University, puts current progress in perspective: “The world community has not even begun to grapple with what is to come,” he tells WorldViews in an e-mail. More

 

Besieged by the rising tides of climate change, Kiribati buys land in Fiji

The people of Kiribati, a group of islands in the Pacific ocean particularly exposed to climate change, now own a possible refuge elsewhere. President Anote Tong has recently finalised the purchase of 20 sq km on Vanua Levu, one of the Fijiislands, about 2,000km away.

Abandoned house affected by sea water

The Church of England has sold a stretch of land mainly covered by dense forest for $8.77m. “We would hope not to put everyone on [this] one piece of land, but if it became absolutely necessary, yes, we could do it,” Tong told the Associated Press. Kiribati has a population of about 110,000 scattered over 33 small, low-lying islands extending over a total area of 3.5m sq km.

In 2009 the Maldives were the first to raise the possibility of purchasing land in another country in anticipation of being gradually submerged. At the time the government looked at options in India and Sri Lanka.

Now Kiribati has taken action. “Kiribati is just the first on a list which could get longer as time passes,” says Ronald Jumeau, Seychelles ambassador at the United Nations, who took part in the international negotiations on climate change in Bonn last month.

In March the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published the volume on adaptation of its fifth assessment report, confirming in starker terms forecasts first outlined by scientists in 1990. Within a few decades, small islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans risk being extensively or even completely submerged. In places the sea level is rising by 1.2cm a year, four times faster than the global average.

The cost of protecting these places against rising sea levels, compared with national income, is among the highest in the world. Kiribati, Tuvalu and the Maldives are among the 10 countries where the financial impact of climate change is the most severe.

For many of these countries, which are represented by the Alliance of Small Island States, the impacts of climate change are “irreparable”, as Tong has often stressed. “Whatever is agreed within the United States today, with China [the two largest sources of CO2 emissions], it will not have a bearing on our future, because already, it's too late for us … And so we are the canary. But hopefully, that experience will send a very strong message that we might be on the frontline today, but others will be on the frontline next,” he said in an interview on CNN last month. This explains why small island states think it is so important to set up an international mechanism for loss and damage, to compensate for the irremediable consequences of global warming.

The international community approved the principle of such a mechanism in November 2013. “When a population is forced to leave its country, it is no longer a matter of adaptation,” Jumeau claims. “Where will these countries find funds? It is up to the industrialised countries, which caused global warming, to shoulder their responsibilities.” He wants to make the loss and damage mechanism a priority for the global deal on climate change slated to be signed in Paris in December 2015.

In the immediate future, the land purchased by Kiribati will above all be used to for agricultural and fish-farming projects to guarantee the nation's food security. With sea water increasingly contaminating the atolls' groundwater and catastrophic coral bleaching – total in some cases such as Phoenix atoll – there are growing food shortages. “Among the small islands, Kiribati is the country that has done most to anticipate its population's future needs,” says François Gemenne, a specialist on migrations at Versailles-Saint Quentin University, France. “The government has launched the 'migration with dignity' policy to allow people to apply for jobs on offer in neighbouring countries such as New Zealand. The aim is to avoid one day having to cope with a humanitarian evacuation.”

Kiribati has long-standing relations with Fiji. In the 1950s families from Banaba island, who had been displaced to make room for a phosphate mine, took refuge there, Gemenne recalls. More

 

Drought in Syria: a Major Cause of the Civil War?

Syria's devastating civil war that began in March 2011 has killed over 200,000 people, displaced at least 4.5 million, and created 3 million refugees.

Figure 1. The highest level of drought,
“Exceptional”, was affecting much of
Western Syria in April 2014, as measured
by the one-year Standardized Precipitation
Index (SPI).
Image credit: NOAA's Global Drought Portal

While the causes of the war are complex, a key contributing factor was the nation's devastating 2006 – 2011 drought, one of the worst in the nation's history, according to new research accepted for publication in the journal Weather, Climate, and Society by water resources expert Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute. The drought brought the Fertile Crescent's lowest 4-year rainfall amounts since 1940, and Syria's most severe set of crop failures in recorded history. The worst drought-affected regions were eastern Syria, northern Iraq, and Iran, the major grain-growing areas of the northern Fertile Crescent. In a press release that accompanied the release of the new paper, Dr. Gleick said that as a result of the drought, “the decrease in water availability, water mismanagement, agricultural failures, and related economic deterioration contributed to population dislocations and the migration of rural communities to nearby cities. These factors further contributed to urban unemployment, economic dislocations, food insecurity for more than a million people, and subsequent social unrest.”

More

Surviving the 21st Century

Surviving the 21st Century


Published on May 28, 2014 • Professor Noam Chomsky Institute Professor & Professor of Linguistics (Emeritus), Massachusetts Institute of Technology addressed this question of global significance in a special Durham Castle Lecture on 22nd May.

Which U.S. City Will Be the First Submerged by Climate Change?

A new Climate Central report shows which U.S. cities’ fates are locked in by sea-level rise. The long list of 1,400 cities includes not only obvious coastal candidates like Miami and New Orleans, but also inland cities such as Sacramento. They’re doomed to drown by 2100 even if carbon emissions immediately—like right now—drop to zero.

Representative Henry Waxman (D-CA), a longstanding climate champion, tells TakePart: “As this report makes clear, climate change is no longer an issue for ‘later.’ Climate change is already affecting the United States and the window for effective action is closing fast. We must act now to protect the planet for our children and future generations.”

Ben Strauss, one of the scientists behind the new report, began with a study that found for every degree Fahrenheit of global warming due to carbon pollution, global average sea-level will rise by about 4.2 feet in the long run. When multiplied by the current rate of carbon emissions, and the best estimate of global temperature sensitivity to pollution, this translates to a long-term sea-level rise commitment that is now growing at about one foot per decade. Strauss then analyzed the growth of the locked-in amount of sea-level rise and plotted it against a map of the United States.

Carbon pollution to date has already locked in more than four feet of sea-level rise past today’s levels, Strauss finds. That’s enough, at high tide, to submerge more than half of today’s population in 316 coastal cities and towns, home to 3.6 million people, in the lower 48 states.

“We have two sea levels: the sea level of today, and the far higher sea level that is already being locked in for some distant tomorrow,” Strauss writes.

Rising tides have already harmed some coastal towns.

“In Rhode Island, we’ve already seen almost 10 inches of sea-level rise at the Newport tide gauge since the 1930s, making coastal communities more vulnerable to floods, erosion, and the kind of property damage we saw during Hurricane Sandy. We must take immediate steps to limit the carbon pollution that is contributing to sea-level rise, and help coastal areas prepare for new realities,” Senator Sheldon Whitehouse tells TakePart.

To the surprise of absolutely no one who has seen An Inconvenient Truth, Florida is the most threatened state. Louisiana, North Carolina, and New Jersey are also high on the list. Strauss didn’t consider the impact of armoring or defending cities in preparing his report, but notes that New Orleans may be defensible through sea walls, while Miami is indefensible because of its porous bedrock geology.

Although California’s Sacramento and Stockton are thought of as inland cities, they’re connected to the Pacific Ocean through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, a complex maze of marshes and levees. By 2040, 25 percent of Stockton will be underwater at high tide. By 2060, the same will be true of Sacramento, California’s state capitol. Coastal California cities such as Huntington Beach, the original Orange County Surf City, and Palo Alto, home of Stanford University, will likewise be inundated.

Other cities projected to be 50 percent underwater: Galveston, Texas, by 2030; Norfolk, Virginia; and Coral Gables, Florida, by 2044. More