A plan nobody hopes they will need

New Zealand and climate change migration

  • Philip Cass Unitec


At the Second Pacific Climate Change conference in Wellington in February 2018, New Zealand’s Minister for Pacific Peoples, ‘Aupito Tofae Su’a William Sio, said New Zealand must have policies in place to deal with the possibility of climate induced migration from the Pacific Islands. He described having such a policy in place as being akin to a factory preparing an evacuation plan in case of an earthquake: A vital precaution for something everybody hoped would never be needed. But what would that policy look like, how far forward would planners have to think, what issues are involved and who would be responsible for making sure it was effective? This article examines four key areas of concern that will have to be dealt with if an effective policy on climate change-induced migration is to be developed: Public perceptions, the law, maintaining Island culture and identity and changing the existing media narrative on social change. It identifies three groups of key players in the process: Legislators and legal experts, churches and journalists.


ABC. (2014). Pacific Islanders reject ‘climate refugee’ status, want to ‘migrate with dignity’, SIDS conference hears. Retrieved from http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-09-05/pacific-islanders-reject-calls-for-27climate-refugee27-status/5723078
‘Akeli, S. (2018). Climate-induced migration: Where to from here for Pacific nations? Paper presented to the Second Pacific Climate Change conference, Wellington, 21-23 February 2018.
Allwood, J. (2013) How climate change displaces Pacific Islands settlements and the public’s perception of large scale migration. Unpublished masters thesis, Waikato University.
Appleby, L. (2015). Simulation shows ‘unavoidable’ 3m Auckland sea level rise.
Retrieved from http://www.tvnz.co.nz/one-news/new-zealand/simulation-shows-unavoidable-3m-auckland-sea-level-rise-q02974
Associated Press. (2017). Don’t be afraid! Pope starts campaign to promote migrants
Retrieved from http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/29/pope-launches-campaign-to-promote-migrants/
Banda, F. (Ed). (2013). Climate change in Africa: A guidebook for journalists. Paris: UNESCO..
Barnett, J., & Chamberlain, N. (2010). Migration as climate change adaptation: Implications for the Pacific. In Boncour P. & Burson B. (Eds.). Climate change and migration: South Pacific perspectives (pp. 51-58). Wellington, NZ: Institute of Policy studies, Victoria University.
Bedford, R., & Bedford, C. (2010) International migration and climate change: A post-Copenhagen perspective on options for Kiribati and Tuvalu. In Boncour P. & Burson B. (Eds.), Climate change and migration: South Pacific perspectives (pp. 89-135). Wellington, NZ: Institute of Policy Studies, Victoria University.
Boncour, P., & Burson, B. (2010). Climate change and migration in the South Pacific region: Policy Perspectives. In Boncour P. & Burson B. (Eds), Climate change and migration: South Pacific perspective (pp. 5-29). Wellington, NZ: Institute of Policy Studies, Victoria University.
Brown, O. (2017). Climate change and forced migration: Observations, projections and implications. UNDP: Human Development Report Office.
Brüggemann, M. (2018). Shifting roles of science journalists covering climate change. In Oxford research encyclopedia of climate science. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.
Burson, B. (2010). Protecting the rights of people displaced by climate change: Global issues and regional perspectives. In Boncour P. & Burson B. (Eds.), Climate change and migration: South Pacific perspective (pp. 159-180), Wellington, NZ: Institute of Policy Studies, Victoria University.
Cass. P. (2016). A foreign flower no more: Tongan diasporic media and the 2014 election. Pacific Journalism Review. 22(1), 93-104. doi:10.24135/pjr.v22i1.14
Cass, P. (2017). Strong Tongan, Pasifika representation in Labour’s new cabinet, Kaniva Tonga. Retrieved from http://kanivatonga.nz/2017/10/strong-tongan-pasifika-representation-labours-new-cabinet/
Cass, P. (2018a) Climate change demands plan for emergency we hope won’t happen says Sio. Kaniva Tonga. retrieved from http://kanivatonga.nz/2018/03/climate-change-demands-plan-for-emergency-we-hope-wont-happen-says-sio/
Cass, P. (2018b). Pacific Islands are canary in the coal mine for climate change says Minister. Kaniva Tonga. Retrieved from http://kanivatonga.nz/2018/03/pacific-islands-canary-coal-mine-climate-change-says-minister/
Cass, P. (2018c) Tongan churches not doing enough about climate change, says research. Kaniva Tonga. retrieved from http://kanivatonga.nz/2018/02/tongan-churches-not-enough-climate-change-says-research/
Cass, P. (2018d) Tonga wants three year visas for seasonal workers’ programme in Australia. Kaniva Tonga. http://kanivatonga.nz/2018/03/tonga-wants-three-year-visas-seasonal-workers-programme-australia/
Chand, S. (2017). Newspaper coverage of climate change in Fiji: A content analysis. Pacific Journalism Review, 23(1). 169-185. doi:10.24135/pjr.v23i1.310
Chatham House. (2017). Public perceptions of refugees and migrants: the role of politicians, the media and civil society. Retrieved from http://www.odi.org/sites/odi.org.uk/files/project-document/11515.pdf
Cleaver, J., & Hutt, K. (2017). Pacific student journalists passionate about reporting climate change. Retrieved from http://asiapacificreport.nz/2017/04/25/pacific-student-journalists-passionate-about-reporting-climate-change/
Corner, A., Lewandowsky, S., Phillips, M. and Roberts, O. (2015) The uncertainty handbook. Bristol, UK: University of Bristol.
Danilova, V. (2016) Media and their role in shaping public attitudes towards migrants. United Nations University. Retrieved from https://ourworld.unu.edu/en/media-and-their-role-in-shaping-public-attitudes-towards-migrants
Deutsche Welle. (2017) Kiribati: a drowning paradise in the South Pacific [Video documentary]. Retrieved from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TZ0j6kr4ZJ0&t=365s
Fernandez, H. (2017). Climate change will force mass migration of 1 billion by 2100. Retrieved from http://www.eco-business.com/news/climate-change-will-force-mass-migration-of-1-billion-by-2100/
Gillard, M., & Dyson, L. (2012). Kiribati migration to New Zealand: experience, needs and aspirations. Auckland, NZ: Impact Research/Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand.
Grantham, J. (2018). Tongan Cardinal’s Australian interview. Retrieved from http://catholicoutlook.org/exclusive-tongan-cardinals-australian-interview/
Hendricks R. (2017). Communicating climate change: Focus on the framing, not just the facts. Retrieved from http://theconversation.com/communicating-climate-change-focus-on-the-framing-not-just-the-facts-73028
Howell, J., & Kleinsman, J. (2018). A religious and moral perspective on climate change in NZ and the Pacific. A paper presented to the Second Pacific Climate Change conference, Wellington, 21-23 February 2018.
Hutt, K. (2017). Pacific-wide study aims to understand how journalists cover climate change. Retrieved from http://asiapacificreport.nz/2017/05/17/pacific-wide-study-aims-to-understand-how-journalists-cover-climate-change/
Ipsos Public Affairs. (2016). International immigration, refugee and Brexit poll. Retrieved from http://www.curia.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Ipsos-New-Zealand-Immigration-Refugees-and-Brexit-Survey-Report-2016.pdf
Jackson, C. (2010). Staying afloat in paradise: Reporting climate change in the Pacific. Oford: University of Oxford: Reuters Institute Paper.
Immigration New Zealand (n.d.a). Recognised seasonal employer scheme http://www.immigration.govt.nz/about-us/research-and-statistics/research-reports/recognised-seasonal-employer-rse-scheme
Immigration New Zealand (n.d.b). Pacific access category resident visa. Retrieved from
Liava’a, L. (2018). Climate change and churches in Tonga: Factors hampering a unified response. Paper presented to the Second Pacific Climate Change conference, Wellington, 23-23 February 2018.
McAdam, J. (2013). No ‘climate refugees’ in New Zealand. Retrieved from http://www.brookings.edu/blogs/planetpolicy/posts/2014/08/13-climate-refugees-new-zealand-mcadam
McLeod, D. (2010). Potential impacts of climate change migration on Pacific families living in New Zealand. In Boncour P. & Burson B. (Eds.), Climate change and migration: South Pacific perspectives. (pp. 135-157). Wellington, NZ: Institute of Policy Studies, Victoria University.
Mshana, R., & Peralta. A. (2015). Economy of life: Linking poverty, wealth and ecology. Geneva. World Council of Churches (WCC) Publications.
Newshub. (2018). 137,000 Auckland buildings at risk of flooding – Council. Retrieved from http://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2018/02/137-000-auckland-buildings-at-risk-of-flooding-council.html
Ober, K., & Sakdapolrak, P. (2015). The links between climate change and migration. China Dialogue. Retrieved from http://www.chinadialogue.net/article/show/single/en/8381-The-links-between-climate-change-and-migration
Papoutsaki, E., Cass, P., & Matbob, P. (2016). Old and new media in the Pacific Islands: synergies, challenges and potential. Paper presented at the International Association for Media and Communication Research Conference (IAMCR), University of Leicester, United Kingdom.
Parliamentary Commissioner for the Environment. (2015) Preparing New Zealand for Rising Seas. Wellington: New Zealand Parliament. Retrieved from http://www.pce.parliament.nz/media/1380/preparing-nz-for-rising-seas-web-small.pdf
Pierigh, F. (2017). Changing the narrative: media representation of refugees and migrants in Europe. World Association for Christian Communication (WACC). Retrieved from http://www.refugeesreporting.eu/wpcontent/uploads/2017/10/Changing_the_Narrative_Media_Representation_of_Refugees_and_Migrants_in_Europe.pdf
Pope Francis. (2015). Laudato Si: On care of our common home. http://w2.vatican.va/content/francesco/en/encyclicals/documents/papa-francesco_20150524_enciclica-laudato-si.html
Rive, V. (2013). Safe harbours, closed borders? New Zealand legal and policy responses to climate displacement in the South Pacific. doi:10.2139/ssrn.2328593
Robie, D. (2017). The insecurity legacy of the Rainbow Warrior affair: A human rights transition from nuclear to climate-change refugees. Pacific Dynamics: Journal of Interdisciplinary Research. 1:1. http://pacificdynamics.nz
Robie, D., & Chand, S. (2017). Bearing Witness 2016: A Fiji climate change journalism case study. Pacific Journalism Review, 23(1), 186-205. doi:10.24135/pjr.v23i1.257
Royal Society of New Zealand. (2018). Royal Society Te Apārangi supports joint statement on climate change by Commonwealth academies of science. Retrieved from https://royalsociety.org.nz/news/royal-society-te-aparangi-supports-joint-statement-on-climate-change-by-commonwealth-academies-of-science/
Sakarelli, M. (2017). The mediation of climate change induced migration. Implications for meaningful media discourse and empowerment of key intermediaries to raise public awareness. Bristol, UK: University of Bristol.
Scoop. (2015). Teitiota climate change/refugee case: Application dismissed http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1507/S00182/teitao-climate-changerefugee-case-application-dismissed.htm
Sio, W. (2018). Climate change observations in the Pacific. Paper presented to the Second Pacific Climate Change conference, Wellington, 21-23 February 2018.
Sio, W. (2016). Kiribati video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uDG7A0-UEb4
Sio, W. (2016). Tuvalu video. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZEtCQVcYKbc
The challenge (n.d.). The Nansen Initiative: Disaster-induced cross-border displacement. Retrieved from http://www.nanseninitiative.org/global-consultations/
The Spinoff. (2017). Covering climate change: journalism’s biggest and most difficult story, ever. Retrieved from http://thespinoff.co.nz/science/climate-change-week/16-08-2017/covering-climate-change-journalisms-biggest-and-most-difficult-story-ever/
Stuff. (2017). Sea level rise could swamp some New Zealand cities, Stuff. Retrieved from
UK Climate Change and Migration Coalition. (2012) Communicating climate change and migration. London, UK: UKCCMC.
Wahlquist, C., & Doherty, B. (2017). UN condemns Australia on Indigenous detentions and asylum policies. Retrieved from http://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/oct/20/un-condemns-australia-on-indigenous-detentions-and-asylum-policies
Walters, S., de Silva-Schmidt, F., & Brüggemann, M. (2017). Knowledge brokers to opinion makers: How physical presence affected scientists’ Twitter use during the COP21 climate change conference. International Journal of Communication,11, 570–591.
Winfield, N., & Zoll, R. (2017). Pope launches campaign to promote migrants. Retrieved from http://www.pressherald.com/2017/09/29/pope-launches-campaign-to-promote-migrants/
Winnard D., Lee M., & Macleod, G. (2015). Demographic profile: 2013 census, population of Counties Manukau. Auckland, NZ: Counties Manukau Health.
PJR icon

How to Cite
Cass, P. (2018). A plan nobody hopes they will need. Pacific Journalism Review : Te Koakoa, 24(1), 138-153. https://doi.org/10.24135/pjr.v24i1.426