▲ Syria suffered its worst drought in modern times between 2003 and 2006 leading to social unrest. Photo by Joel Bombardier
Senator for Tasmania Nick McKim told The Jeju Weekly on Oct 2 that the warning signs of climate change are all around us, from rising sea levels to the conflict in Syria, and it is time the voices of island states were heard.
A member of the Australian Greens, McKim also gave a keynote address to the 1st Jeju I-20 Initiative at Jeju National University stressing the role of extreme drought (2006-2009) in forcing desperate farmers into Syrian cities in the years before violence broke out in 2011.
“Tragically, we ain’t seen nothing yet. Because of climate change, changing rainfall patterns and sea-level rise we are going to see the mass displacement of tens and, potentially, hundreds of millions more people in the coming decades.”
“People are being displaced because of climate change, or because of conflicts driven by climate change, and I think it is entirely reasonable for those people to move and seek a better life for themselves and their families,” said McKim.
The Australian wants more recognition of “climate refugees,” and also more action from world leaders to lower carbon emissions. He says the experience of small islands is essential to help prevent mass displacement in the future.
“[I]f islands start disappearing under the water, then those people will be displaced and they are going to arrive on the doorsteps of American, or European or Oceanic governments placing a massive strain on health, law and order and justice systems.”
Island lessons for us all
▲ Nick McKim was on Jeju to support the I-20 Initiative. Photo courtesy Australian Greens
McKim is a strong supporter of the I-20, a group of 20 islands which would operate within the G20 and ensure world leaders listen to islands’ lessons on the three Es of energy security, economic efficiency, and environmental acceptability.
In his book on humanity’s obsession with islands, Thurston Clarke writes about this potential of islands “to save the soul of a continent” with their wisdom, peace, simplicity and silence.
As “the canaries in the coal mine on climate change,” however, McKim would not only like to hear more noise, but also better pitching of the arguments.
“In the global conversation, historically islands have been very good at explaining why we need help, and why our voice should be heard, but we have to get better at explaining the role that islands can play to benefit non-island people around the world,” he said.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) states that island states are more vulnerable to changes in climate due to poor food and water security, energy dependence, and sea-level rise.
The environmental activist from Australia’s largest island points to the existence of a Y20 for youth, a B20 for business and an L20 for labor within the G20. He says it is now time for islands, too, to have “a direct line” to the world’s decision-makers.
“Islands deserve to have a voice when the big economic decisions of the world are made because we are often paying the price for decisions made in parliaments, cabinet rooms and corporate boardrooms around the world,” he said.
McKim has a long history of campaigning for environmental justice on his home island, and he says that island life attunes residents to the needs of the environment more than continent-dwellers.
“There is no doubt that islanders are at the front lines of climate change, sea-level rise and extreme weather events, so I think that brings it home to islanders that we do need to change.”
“I also think that islanders are more willing to change than non-islanders because islanders have had to be flexible and resilient to survive, so it is in their nature to embrace change when they need to,” he says.
As evidence of such change, McKim points to King Island in his home state that has switched to a smart grid and renewables. A similar project runs on Jeju’s Gapado Island, and the whole province could be carbon-free by 2030.
“By becoming trial sites and testbeds for new technologies and new approaches, including adaptation and approaches in relation to climate change, and acting as early warning systems, ultimately I think that islands have more geopolitical power than we know.”
The 2nd I-20 Initiative will be held June 27-29, 2016, on Jeju Island, and the 3rd will be held on Fiji Island August 25-27, 2016. For for information contact Professor Ko Changhoon of the College of Social Sciences: firstname.lastname@example.org
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