Speech to the International Association of Refugee and Migration Judges (IARMJ), Biennial Asia Pacific Chapter Conference

  • Hon Aupito William Sio
Pacific Peoples
  • Kia ora tatou katou. Warm Pacific greetings to you all.
  • Oute manatu, o lupe sa vaoeseese, a’o lenei ua fuifui fa’atasi
  • Ua manu fa’aifo mai le lagi le igoa ipu a Tupuola. Aua ua paia, ua mamalu, ua ula, ua maualuga foi le paia ma le mamalu, lea ua aofaga potopoto.
  • I acknowledge that each of you hold significant roles in your respective countries as Judges and members of the judiciary.  We are blessed to have your presence, your mana in this forum as we discuss some weighty matters that has great meaning to the Pacific region and its peoples.

My presentation will focus on the following:

  • I’ll share some pictures I took when I travelled to Tuvalu and Kiribati, immediately after the Paris Agreement was signed;
  • I’ll share the New Zealand Government’s view on Climate Change, and a few examples of our response thus far;
  • I’ll speak about our Government’s focus in the Pacific, why, our new approach, and the foundations for this new approach;
  • I’ll pose some questions that I have which I believe politicians like myself need help with, in my hope to spark discussions about potential policy areas;
  • Finally I’ll show a short clip of a King Tide as taken by a friend from Tuvalu.

Pictures: Climate Change in Tuvalu & Kiribati

  • Tuvalu – limited land and space, with the Pacific Ocean on one side of the road, and the lagoon on a metre away on the other side;
  • Coastal erosion – the damage to coconut trees;
  • Regular coastal flooding in homes and land areas;
  • Destruction of homes, crops and gravesites;
  • Pollution of ground water sources – health risks – diseases & death;
  • Damaged seawalls on Red Beach, Kiribati;
  • Outer islands are becoming uninhabitable, leading to internal migration;
  • Extreme events becoming more regular, more severe. Prolonged wetter, dryer, and hotter climates;

Pictures: What’s the Pacific doing about climate change?

  • Fighting as best they can;
  • Building seawalls with imported rocks from Fiji & Nauru;
  • Reclaiming the foreshore. Tuvalu drenching the lagoon and filling 5 ton bags to reclaim the front of the government building;
  • Food insecurity

Climate Change: The New Zealand Government’s View 

  • What is the New Zealand Government’s view on Climate Change? It’s real. Our Prime Minister has declared climate change as the nuclear-free challenge of our generation.
  • New Zealand wants to be a global leader on climate change. 
  • We recognise that global challenges require everyone’s attention and action. We all have a responsibility to care for the earth in the face of climate change. We need to ensure we work across borders, to share research and ideas, build opportunities with other nations.
  • We have a significant domestic programme under way, including a Zero Carbon Bill. We will legislate a 2050 zero net-emissions target and establish an independent Climate Change Commission to advise the government on national carbon budgets.
  • We’re also looking at how to make our electricity be 100% renewable by 2035.
  • New Zealand is fully committed to the Paris Agreement and we are taking urgent action to transition to a low-carbon and climate resilient economy. 
  • Our focus is on doing this in a way that creates new areas of growth and opportunity for our communities.
  • New Zealand is active in the Paris Agreement negotiations and we are also working more widely to encourage ambition.

A few examples of New Zealand’s Response on Climate Change so far

  • We are reviewing our emissions trading scheme, to ensure it helps us deliver a net zero-emissions future.
  • We have started planting trees with a target of 1 billion trees over the next decade. 
  • And we are no longer issuing permits for offshore oil and gas exploration. 
  • On the international stage we are pushing for the reform of fossil fuel subsidies -   the $460 billion spent each year that works against climate ambition and could be better spent on building resilient societies.
  • We are leading research and collaboration on climate change and agriculture. At COP24 New Zealand will lead an event on sustainable agriculture and climate change. We’re aiming to encourage action to capture the ‘triple win’ – increasing agricultural productivity, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and strengthening resilience to climate change impacts.
  • We are undertaking research in Antarctica to better understand the crucial role it plays in global systems, and the far reaching effects environmental change in Antarctica will have.
  • Underpinning all of this action is our commitment to the Paris Agreement and the critical decisions that will be made in Poland this December.

NZ & Climate Change in the Pacific

  • The challenge of climate change requires us to look beyond our domestic borders, and in New Zealand’s case towards the Pacific.  
  • We recognise our neighbours in the Pacific region are uniquely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change and are feeling these impacts, day to day.
  • Pacific leaders themselves have declared climate change to be the single biggest threat facing Pacific Island countries and territories.
  • We want to support our Pacific neighbours to make the transition to a low carbon economy without hurting their existing economic base.
  • We will stand with the Pacific to honour their desire to retain the Pacific’s social and cultural identity and to continue to live in their own countries, where possible.
  • At the centre of all this, is our Government’s Pacific Reset focus, which is a commitment to build deeper partnerships with Pacific countries.

The Value of the Pacific Reset

  • Earlier this year our Minister for Foreign Affairs, Minister Peters announced a ‘reset’ of New Zealand’s relationships and approach in the Pacific.
  • This reenergized Pacific strategy will be absolutely central to the approach that our government takes in working throughout the Pacific region.
  • The Pacific Reset is a recognition that New Zealand can and should be doing more in the Pacific.
  • New Zealand is a Pacific country, firmly anchored in the Pacific, linked by history, culture, politics and demographics.
  • We have constitutional ties to the Cook Islands, Niue and Tokelau, and a Treaty of Friendship with Samoa.
  • Our identity is inextricably connected to the Pacific. And with the demographic trends as they are, this is only going to intensify.
  • What happens in the Pacific has a profound impact on New Zealand. Whether its immigration laws, transnational crime, opportunities for kiwi businesses, right through to the strength of the All Blacks side, the Pacific is a central piece of all of these puzzles.
  • The Pacific has always been the place where New Zealand matters more, where we can have more positive impact than anywhere else in the world. And this is absolutely the case today.

The Pacific Reset Principles

  •  One of the elements you’ve probably heard about is a sizeable increase in our international development spending – an additional $714 million over four years to be precise.
  • NZ will work with Pacific governments on their priorities and how to best use this investment, and also how we can leverage it with other stakeholders in the region. 
  • A significant portion will go towards the area of climate change.
  • Additionally, our Prime Minister also announced an increase to the global climate finance commitment to $300 million over four years, which is an increase of $100 million.
  • This funding allocation will focus on practical action that will help Pacific countries adapt to climate change and build resilience.
  • The Pacific Reset is much more than an increase in development funds. At its heart it is about shaping a new approach to NZ diplomacy in the Pacific.
  • To help steer the new approach, the New Zealand Cabinet has agreed to a set of 5 principles
  1. Understanding: Firstly, we will demonstrate a depth of understanding of the Pacific. There is a Pacific perspective in all things. It is similar to the perspective of Maori. It is shared by the Pacific diaspora in NZ.
  2.  Friendship: We’ll exhibit friendship through all our dealings with Pacific Island countries, by taking an honest, empathetic and respectful approach.
  3. Mutual benefit: We’ll strive for solutions of mutual benefit when developing policy with impacts on the Pacific.
  4. Collective ambition: We’ll achieve collective ambition with Pacific partners and external actors
  5. Sustainability: And finally, we will seek sustainability by focusing on the region’s long-term goals, and by playing our part in promoting resilience, and social achievement and economic development.


  • Our immigration policy will reflect the principles agreed to in this Reset, given that Migration is an important part of New Zealand’s relationship with the Pacific.
  • As part of the ‘Pacific Reset’ our Government is taking forward a comprehensive approach to addressing Pacific climate migration, including regional, multilateral, legal, and development solutions with a near term focus on adaptation and mitigation.
  • Cabinet agreed to an approach to this work in May 2018, recognising the importance of foundational work being undertaken before consideration of an immigration solution.
  • Our response to Pacific climate change is underpinned by acknowledgment of the expressed desire of Pacific peoples to continue to live in their own countries.
  • At the same time we recognise that resettlement or migration might become necessary as Pacific peoples are affected by the impacts of climate change.
  • In that eventuality, New Zealand’s immigration policies might be sufficiently flexible to form one part of a future solution.
  • We will have more to say about this work next year.

Significant Issues & Questions

  • There are significant issues and questions that I think politicians need help in answering and help in developing policy on.
  • Scientific evidence points to 2070-2100 where low lying atolls, such as Tokelau, Tuvalu, Kiribati and the Marshall islands, maybe under water.
  • I pose these questions to spark discussion in my search to better understand what we can be doing.
  • What will happen to the citizenship and sovereignty rights of those islands that go under water?
  • Who will benefit from their EEZ, mineral rights, fishing, space, World Wide Web rights, if these islands are under water?
  • What about the loss of lands, languages and indigenous knowledge?
  • Who is responsible for this loss? Compensation for harms caused?
  • If we are to put in place an emergency plan for the emergency no one wants – displaced peoples on our borders – who will resource and pay for this emergency plan, which must include relocation and resettlement?

Video: King Tide in Tuvalu

Picture: Kiribati Children – This is what it’s all about