Most Kiribatian households are mulling climate migration – and that’s just the start


Andrew Geddes, University of Sheffield

The Paris climate summit has come too late for Ioane Teitiota from the Pacific island nation of Kiribati, who made history when his case for asylum in New Zealand was rejected in September.

His claim for protection was based on the effects of climate change. Kiribati president Anote Tong has argued that his citizens should be able to migrate with “dignity”, and a survey released at the Paris summit suggests that people in more than 70% of households in Kiribati and Tuvalu, and 35% of those in Nauru, would consider migrating because of climate stresses.

Kiribati’s president Anote Tong addresses the opening of the Paris talks.
EPA/Etienne Laurent

Hundreds of millions of people across the globe are exposed to environmental risk and this number is likely to grow. UK government research has developed alternative scenarios to identify populations living in cities on floodplains who are potentially exposed to environmental risk. In Southeast Asia numbers were projected to rise from seven million in 2000 to between 30 million and 49 million by 2060. In Africa, a similar exercise projected a rise from two million in 2000 to between 26 million and 36 million by 2060.

To go, or not to go

But being at risk does not necessarily mean these people will migrate to escape it. Even if they were to move, these findings say nothing about the distance people would travel. Most migration is internal within states or, when international, to the next safe place – typically a neighbouring country.

Perhaps more seriously, many people who are especially vulnerable to the effects of climate change lack the physical, financial or social resources to move. The result is potentially hundreds of millions of people effectively trapped in places where they are exposed to significant environmental hazard.

It’s a mistake to imagine that climate change is simply a trigger mechanism that causes people to migrate. Trapped populations, including the elderly or children, are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change and less able to migrate. They are more prone to humanitarian emergencies or future displacement. Relocation away from risk could help, but should respect the rights and dignity of migrants. Facilitated migration could also help avoid future displacement and emergencies, but this requires significant political will and international cooperation.

Political responses have lagged behind the problem. Research suggests that decision-makers’ views are mostly shaped by past responses to refugee issues – meaning climate change is seen as something that could shape the future migration rather than something that is happening now and will only intensify in the future.

Displaced people need to be protected. Since 2008, one person per second – or more than 26 million a year – have been displaced, mainly by extreme weather events. Some 97% of this has happened in developing countries in Asia and Africa. In October, the Nansen Initiative led by the Swiss and Norwegian governments, was endorsed by 114 nations, who have agreed to enhance the humanitarian help available to people who cross borders as a result of climate-related disasters.

An effective migration and mobility agenda means recognising that migration is a key way for people to protect themselves and their families from climate change. The benefit of such an approach is that provisions for mobility can offset the future risk of forced displacement. This requires safe channels that can enable both permanent and temporary migration while protecting migrants’ rights. It requires access to services for these migrants and their family members, while also enabling them to send money and resources back to their family members.

We must think of migration as not always being a crisis and migrants not necessarily as victims, but recognise instead that migration can be a potentially positive and powerful force that helps people to make choices to sustain their livelihoods. Doing this means seeing migration not as part of the problem, but as an important part of the solution to the effects of climate change.

The Conversation

Andrew Geddes, Professor of Politics, University of Sheffield

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

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Attack of the jellies: the winners of ocean acidification


Jason Hall-Spencer, Plymouth University

For most marine biologists, myself included, it wasn’t until 2005 that it dawned on us that a third of all human-caused carbon dioxide emissions are dissolving into and acidifying the sea.

By driving down seawater pH (and increasing acidity), these emissions are increasingly bad news for marine organisms that build their protective shells and skeletons out of calcium carbonate. When seawater becomes too acidic, calcium carbonate structures begin to corrode, dissolving baby oysters, coral skeletons, and many other creatures.

And while much has been written about the species that will lose out, a lot less has been said about the potential “winners” of ocean warming and acidification.

In a recently published paper, we present evidence that the slimy, jelly-like creatures of the oceans are far more tolerant of rising marine carbon dioxide levels. It is these creatures that are likely to proliferate in a warmer and increasingly acidic ocean.

Unfortunately for life in the sea, many of these lucky species are already considered a nuisance in marine ecosystems.

What volcanic vents can tell us about ocean acidification

There are places already on Earth that show us what the future might look like. The waters surrounding some coastal volcanoes are high in CO₂ and low in aragonite (a form of calcium carbonate).

Testing the waters around volcanic seeps helps us understand the effects of ocean acidification on marine species.

Volcanic activity causes CO₂ to bubble up (or “seep”) from the sea floor, acidifying large areas for hundreds of years. The tricky bit is finding carbon dioxide seeps without other minerals which confuse the story. But it can be done, and researchers have begun to study a number of these naturally acidified areas to understand which organisms thrive, and which are most vulnerable to ocean acidification.

We have found that chronic exposure to increases in CO₂ alters food webs and causes marine biodiversity loss around underwater volcanic seeps in the Mediterranean, the Sea of Cortez, and off Papua New Guinea. Key groups, like corals and hard, skeleton-building algae, are consistently compromised and fish reproduction is disrupted.

Meanwhile, higher CO₂ levels stimulate the growth of certain single-celled algae, seaweeds, and seagrasses. If temperatures remain low enough then the symbiotic algae of corals and anemones do well, as do numerous invasive species of animals and algae.

Some organisms have tissues that protect their shells and skeletons – including some corals in the tropics, and mussels in temperate seas – meaning they can tolerate acidified seawater. Yet these animals, despite being tough, can still experience adverse effects on reproduction, behaviour, respiration, and growth when carbon dioxide levels ramp up.

The fossil record serves as a warning. Shells found after high-CO₂ mass extinction events are much smaller than their ancestors — a phenomenon known as the Lilliput effect. Work at volcanic seeps has shown that smaller animals are better able to cope with the stress of ocean acidification.

And while the carbon boost provided by ocean acidification can drive up phytoplankton productivity, it can also harm tropical coral reefs. A fall in carbonate levels causes coral skeletons to dissolve, and increased CO₂ levels stimulates the growth of seaweeds that smother the reefs.

Nuisance species will thrive

It is now clear that tropical coral reefs face a host of interconnected problems (bleaching, corrosion, disease, spreading seaweed, invasive species) that are all exacerbated by rising CO₂ levels.

Invasive species of algae and jellyfish thrive at the levels of carbon dioxide that are predicted to occur this decade. Our review of laboratory experiments reveals stand-out cases such as so called “Killer algae” (Caulerpa taxifolia). This species, which benefits from higher CO₂, is spreading world-wide and is so toxic that native herbivores die of starvation rather than eat it.

It turns out that loads of notorious nuisance species – such as Japanese kelp (Undaria pinnatifida) and stinging jellyfish (Pelagia noctiluca) — are resilient to rising CO₂ levels.

Stinging jellyfish, like this one found near a CO₂ seep, might become an even bigger nuisance as the oceans continue to acidify.
Author provided

Global warming and changes in seawater chemistry may help the spread of hundreds of these damaging marine organisms.

Tackling the issue

Ocean acidification research is the new kid on the block amongst planetary environmental issues. But as evidence rolls in from across the globe it is clear that many organisms are likely to be affected, resulting in both winners and losers.

Both the decline of vulnerable species and the spread of harmful marine organisms should be factored into calculations of the risks of climate change and ocean acidification.

If we want to curb the spread of harmful marine life, like toxic algae and stinging jellyfish, then reducing CO₂ emissions is definitely part of the solution. This is why there is a growing awareness of the central role of ocean issues in climate negotiations at COP21 in Paris and beyond.

But local solutions to this global issue can also have a range of benefits. The International Union for the Conservation of Nature Blue Carbon initiative, for example, recognises the ability of coastal vegetation (e.g. saltmarshes and seagrasses) to prevent acid water run-off, and capture and store carbon – raising the pH of coastal waters. Other solutions include seaweed farming and the gradual restoration of mangroves in areas that have been converted to shrimp farms.

To properly address the crisis of our warming and acidifying oceans, we must attack this issue from every angle. It’s time we began thinking about the ways we can more sustainably work with, and for, our oceans in order to preserve life on Earth.

The Conversation

Jason Hall-Spencer, Professor of Marine Biology, Plymouth University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.