The case of Ioane Teitiota, the first person to ever apply for refugee status due to climate change, has been rejected. His lawyer Dr. Michael Kidd says industrialized nations have to take responsibility.
Ioane Teitiota and his wife moved to New Zealand from the low-lying Pacific island nation of Kiribati six years ago. He said that rising sea levels had made it dangerous for him and his family to return home. According to the judge's ruling in this case, Ioane Teitiota did not fit the definition of a refugee under international guidelines. Dr Michael Kidd is the lawyer representing Mr Teitiota.
DW: Dr Michael Kidd, what is your reaction to the ruling?
Michael Kidd: Obviously my client Mr Teitiota and I were very disappointed. I was a bit surprised by the judge's reasoning in a couple of areas. One is he said that if we allow this case, there will be - he used the word millions - of people who want to become refugees of one sort or another, and I don't think that's very good reasoning at all. It's ignoring the circumstances of a particular case.
If you had been successful, you would have broadened the international definition of what a refugee is. You must have known taking on the case that it could be a long shot. So aside from hoping to win this case, what did you hope to achieve?
Publicity for the plight of people affected by climate change in the world. Not only people in the Pacific low-lying atolls, but in Africa, the Arctic - people there are suffering from melting ice, forest fires in Australia, forest fires even in the United States, all caused by rising temperatures and less rain due to climate change. So I was quite conscious of trying to make a point.
So you're really trying to draw attention to the human story here.
Yes. I want to take up a point the judge made in relation to that point. He said that industrial powers that have caused most of the pollution can't be held responsible because they're not doing it out of malice. My rebuttal to that is the industrial nations can foresee that if they do not stop using fossil fuels and causing CO2 levels to rise, they can foresee clearly that it could damage low-lying atolls. So that if you apply the legal foreseeability principle then I think you've got a nexus there to say, well, if they don't stop it, then they're being negligent, or even in some cases criminally negligent, because people are dying as a result of climate change.