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New Zealand dismisses climate change refugee case

A Pacific islander whose homeland is threatened by rising seas has failed to become the world’s first climate change refugee. A New Zealand court has dismissed the case, saying the man didn't meet international criteria.

New Zealand's High Court in Auckland on Tuesday ruled that Kiribati national Ioane Teitiota's bid to become a climate change refugee fell short of the legal criteria, such as fear of persecution or threats to his life.

In a written ruling, judge John Priestley called the case “novel” but “unconvincing.” He acknowledged that the low-lying nation of Kiribati was suffering environmental degradation attributable to climate change, but under international law Teitiota did not qualify as a refugee.

"The economic environment of Kiribati might certainly not be as attractive to the applicant and his fellow nationals as the economic environment and prospects of Australia and New Zealand," he said. "But... his position does not appear to be different from that of any other Kiribati national."

Teitiota, 37, and his wife arrived in New Zealand in 2007 and have three children who were born there, but with an expired visa the whole family now faces deportation unless he appeals to a higher court.

There have been similar claims under international law for climate change refugee status by people from countries such as Tonga, Fiji and Bangladesh, but none of them have succeeded.

The UN Human Rights Commission has expressed concern for several island states, including Kiribati, Tuvalu, Tokelau and the Maldives, that could become "stateless" due to rising sea levels.

The tiny South Pacific island nation of Kiribati has a population of more than 100,000 people and consists of about 30 atolls, most only a few meters above sea level.

Kiribati's government has bought land in Fiji to grow food and build a potential resettlement site if predictions that the sea will rise by one meter by the end of the century prove accurate.

hc/dr (AFP, Reuters)