On 1st May, 2014, the New Zealand Court of Appeal will hear Ioane Teitiota’s claim to become the world’s first climate refugee. Mr. Teitota is from a remote atoll in the Pacific nation of Kiribati, one of the lowest-lying nations on Earth. He is trying to convince New Zealand judges that he’s a refugee—suffering not from persecution, but from climate change.
The 37-year-old and his wife left Kiribati six years ago for higher ground and better prospects in New Zealand, where their three children were born. Immigration authorities have twice rejected his argument that rising sea levels make it too dangerous for him and his family to return to Kiribati. So did the New Zealand High Court. His lawyer, Michael Kidd, specializes in human rights cases. He argues that the physical destruction of Kiribati from climate change is a human rights violation for those who live there.
It is a long shot, and would mean a major change in international human rights law. But it is hard to argue with the logic, as millions of people find their homes disappearing or becoming unliveable.