Three important global issues - climate change, migration, and human rights- form an emerging triangle because of their interrelatedness. However, critical analysis of the relationship between these three issues apart from an as yet legally meaningless discourse about an imminent global catastrophe of 250 million 'climate refugees' has been limited. This paper examines the climate change, migration, and human rights triangle through the lens of the Pacific, where some of the states most severely threatened by climate change can be found. Extremely small Pacific states whose inhabitants have lived on coral reef islands (called atolls) for more than 2000 years, Tuvalu and Kiribati have received world attention in recent years because of a seemingly insurmountable threat that they face - climate change. As numerous reports have recounted, sea-level rise in as little as 30 years could leave these extremely low-lying atoll countries underwater, effectively causing their disappearance and grave violations of human rights to life, self-determination, and nationality. Lending the drama to the story is the fact that both Tuvalu and Kiribati are least developed countries with extremely limited capacities to adapt or cope with the effects of sea-level rise. Even in a situation as serious as that of the Tuvaluans and I-Kiribati, an attempt to fill legal lacuna of state obligations to protect the rights of climate threatened people would likely yield no benefit. Instead, this paper proposes a rights-based and legally principled immigration policy that, in the face of climate change and diminished human rights conditions, would enable Tuvaluans, I-Kiribati and New Zealanders to achieve a human rights "win-win" if New Zealand were to offer greater temporary and permanent migration opportunities to these islanders.


School of Global Affairs and Public Policy


Law Department

Date of Award

Fall 12-1-2008

Online Submission Date


First Advisor

Christine Anderson

Committee Member 1

Chantal Thomas

Committee Member 2

Ann Lesch

Document Type



82, vi leaves

Library of Congress Subject Heading 1

Climatic changes

Library of Congress Subject Heading 2

Human rights


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Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Call Number

Thesis 2008/39