Protecting the nationality of Pacific Islanders when climate change hits

A new report, co-authored by Professor Scientia Jane McAdam AO, Director of UNSW’s Kaldor International Refugee Law Center, recommends steps to protect citizenship rights and to establish future legal relationships between Pacific Islanders and their homes.

The Future of Nationality in the Pacific: Preventing Statelessness and National Loss in the Context of Climate Change provides the first in-depth look at the legal risks of statelessness and loss of citizenship in the context of climate change in the Pacific. The report found that under current law, some Pacific Islanders who move overseas permanently risk losing their citizenship, or the ability to pass it on to their children.

“Climate change presents major threats to Pacific Island countries. Our research focuses on one area that is at the core of Pacific Islander community and identity, and we propose practical steps that Pacific Island countries can take to protect their citizens’ rights to citizenship and citizenship,” said Prof. McAdam.

The report has been published by three partner institutions – the Kaldor Center UNSW, the Peter McMullin Center on Statelessness at the University of Melbourne, and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS). Researchers – Prof. McAdam, Professor Michelle Foster (Peter McMullin Centre), Nicola Hard (University of Melbourne) and Professor Hélène Lambert (Faculty of Law at UTS) – targeting Pacific countries and regions, where climate change poses increasing threats to livelihoods, security and well-being .

Most research on statelessness and climate change in the Pacific has focused on whether, if a nation sinks, statehood will persist. In practice, people would likely leave the country long before such loss of territory occurred. The Future of Nationalism in the Pacific establishes the need for innovative approaches to citizenship to protect the relationship between people and places, now and in the future.

The report recommends that all Pacific Island countries adopt special legal protections against statelessness to preserve the citizenship rights of their citizens, including by amending their laws to prevent loss of citizenship from residence abroad, and to grant citizenship to children. – Stateless children born abroad. Making laws to address these and other issues will enable Pacific Island nations to protect their people from the risk of statelessness now and in the future.

“National law is a formal means of defending your identity – and with it, rights like voting or running for office, and, ultimately, self-determination. The ability to retain your citizenship while living elsewhere, and to pass it on to your children, plays a strong role in the ongoing relationship with the home,” said Prof. Foster.

Several Pacific Island countries are preparing for virtual statehood. Tuvalu 2021 Future Project Now (Te Ataeao Nei Project) set out a plan to digitize all government services and archive the history and culture of Tuvalu to create a ‘digital state’ that would maintain its sovereignty, even if its entire population moved to another country.

“We examined the citizenship and citizenship laws of 23 Pacific countries and found a mixed picture. Our report respectfully acknowledges the institutions of Pacific nations in preparing for the impacts of climate change, and it is in this spirit that we make several recommendations for improvement,” said Prof. Lambert.

This research was funded by the Australian Research Council (ARC).

Read the report: The Future of Nationality in the Pacific: Preventing Statelessness and National Loss in the Context of Climate Change.

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