New Zealand is stealing from the peoples of the Pacific. We are stealing their land, their homes, their water, and in doing so, we are jeopardising their future.
In the choices we make to produce our food, power our cities and fuel our transport, we are threatening the very existence of Pacific Islands as sovereign nations.
Climate pollution is accelerating floods, droughts and cyclones at a pace and scale that may leave some of the most vulnerable islands in the Pacific uninhabitable.
The drop in global emissions caused by Covid-19 lockdowns is likely only temporary. And even with rapid reductions of greenhouse gases, tens of millions of people are projected to be displaced globally.
In the Pacific, it could mean an entire population is dispossessed, exposing them to an international legal regime ill-equipped to protect them.
Yet, in advocating for new international rules we admit that it is too late to abate the warming climate.
We concede that climate displacement across international borders is inevitable. There is very real danger in this approach.
Planning how to provide for people threatened by climate displacement risks providing ourselves with an excuse to continue an economic model underpinned by polluting the atmosphere.
More than that, we distract from our legal obligation to compensate Pacific countries for the damage we have contributed to.
Of course, without a massive downward shift in the global emissions trajectory, we may have to confront the reality of cross-border displacement in our region.
Our approach should uphold our international legal obligation to recognise the sovereign equality of all states, and also accord with Aotearoa’s first international agreement, Te Tiriti o Waitangi.
If Pacific peoples are forced to seek refuge here, how would we honour the sovereign rights of a country destroyed by the climate, and not cause further injustice in light of Te Tiriti and our failure to honour Māori sovereignty in Aotearoa?
We can’t seek to remedy climate injustice in the Pacific by furthering injustices in Aotearoa. We need to start engaging with hapū and iwi on these issues consistent with Te Tiriti.
And if asked to by the Pacific, we should be allies in developing new legal norms for the protection of the climate dispossessed, both human dignity and sovereign equality, recognising that our first obligation is to stop emitting pollution.
By starting these conversations sooner, rather than later, maybe, just maybe, we have a better chance of a more just future for everyone.
Nā Teall Crossen, PSA member, environmental lawyer, Green Party candidate and author of 'The Climate Dispossessed: Justice for the Pacific in Aotearoa?'