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UN body: Climate change could be grounds for asylum

January 21, 2020

The announcement follows a ruling against a Kiribati man seeking asylum in New Zealand. It will have no immediate legal impact but could be claimed in future cases.

Kiribati island
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/NASA

The UN Human Rights Committee has ruled for the first time that people fleeing the effects of climate change may be entitled to claim asylum on climate grounds. The panel made the announcement on Tuesday, even as it dismissed an individual plaintiff's case against his deportation from New Zealand after he moved to the island nation because his home was sinking.

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Kiribati, canary in climate coal mine

Ioane Teitiota, a resident of Kiribati, argued that he should have the right to remain in New Zealand because his country is slowly being submerged by rising oceans. He said that he and his family were threatened by the lack of fresh water as well as violent land disputes due to the sea-level rise.

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The Wellington top court found in 2015 that Teitiota would not face any danger if he returned home.

The UN panel, which monitors states' compliance with the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, concluded that although the deportation was legal, similar cases could justify claims in the future.

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The committee, comprising 18 independent experts, acknowledged that "environmental degradation, climate change and unsustainable development constitute some of the most pressing and serious threats to the ability of present and future generations to enjoy the right to life."

The ruling will have no immediate legal impact but could be cited by asylum-seekers in future cases.

Read more: 2019: The year of climate consciousness

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lc/ng (dpa, AP)